Title of Der Himmel über Berlin (The Sky Over Berlin) in the United States. I'm noding it under Wings of Desire rather than Der Himmel über Berlin because everything2 is primarily in English and that's the version I saw (subtitles for when German was spoken). The film was written by Wim Wenders and Peter Handke, directed by Wim Wenders, and released in 1987. The film is mostly in German, though there is a noteable amount of English in the film as well.
The movie centers around two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), who wander the streets of Berlin (West Berlin specifically, as the film takes place and was made before Germany reunited) listening to the thoughts of the city's denizens and observing their actions. The angels meet up once in a while to discuss what they've observed. From early on, Damiel expresses to Cassiel that the feelings and experiences of humans intrigue him more and more. The angels lead a rather cold existence, seeing everything in near monochrome and unable to experience sensations such as happiness, pain, or even the temperature of the air around them.
Aside from observation and thought-reading, the angels can also imbue a sense of comfort or relief in humans with a touch when they're feeling depressed or desperate. The angels are invisible to most humans, though in some scenes it seems as though young children are able to see them. Damiel and Cassiel aren't the only angels walking amongst humanity. One scene shows a library almost half full of angels following the humans they're observing for the moment around as they study and read, with the angels smiling to one another.
WARNING: There are spoilers beyond this point.
As Damiel begins to observe a circus trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin) more and more, he begins not only to become fascinated by the human experience but by her. Marion is able to sense his presence, specifically when he touches her and while she sleeps, to some degree. Peter Falk plays a small but significant role in the film. Falk is playing himself, in Berlin to film a Columbo movie, and in one notable scene speaks to Damiel while he's getting coffee. Falk describes the great sensations of things such as coffee and cigarettes to the fascinated angel while the shop keeper (if you want to call a small snack stand a shop) he bought the coffee from looks on perplexed, as she cannot perceive the angel's presence. Towards the end of the scene, Falk extends his hand, which Damiel touches, fully confirming the angel's presence and thanks for sharing his opinion on some human experiences.
Damiel eventually falls in love with Marion. This, combined with his growing urge to experience what humans experience, eventually leads to Damiel making the decision he had been considering since the beginning of the film: To become human. Damiel would become mortal and unable to read minds but be able to experience the full array of human emotions and senses. The human experience seems to appeal somewhat to Cassiel as well but not to the degree that he too is willing to end his divine existence.
Damiel, after making his decision, awakes on a Berlin sidewalk, seeing in colour for the first time. A piece of armor falls out of the sky, his when he was an angel (though he isn't ever seen actually wearing it outside of a dream Marion has), waking him with a bang to the head. Damiel begins walking and notices he's bleeding. He asks a passerby, after wiping some of the blood onto his fingers, if it's red. After it's been confirmed, he begins asking the colours of a painted wall in the background, amazed at experienced orange, blue, grey, and the like for the first time.
Damiel pawns the armor for some cash and makes his way to the set that Peter Falk is filming on. Seeing Falk through a chain-link fence, Damiel gets his attention. Falk recognises Damiel (he tends to seem familiar to many, having observed them for so long just outside their normal means of perception) and the two have a brief talk. Falk gives Damiel a cigarette and tells Damiel the pawn shop dealer ripped him off for the amount of cash he received for the armor. At this point, Falk reveals that he, too, was once an angel, having become human for much the same reasons, and had pawned his armor in New York many years ago. Before Falk must return to filming, he tells Damiel that there are actually a lot more angels-turned-human about Earth than one might think.
After his meeting with Falk, Damiel heads for the circus to meet Marion. He arrives too late, the circus having gone bankrupt and most of the performers moving on. Damiel eventually meets up with Marion at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert, where she recognises him in the same strange way that Falk did, though much more intimately, feeling love for him as he does for her. The two spend the night together and the next day, as Damiel assists Marion in some trapeze exercises, Cassiel observes him, reading his thoughts, appearing in the scene still in a bluish monochrome colour while Damiel, Marion, and their surroundings are appear in full colour. The movie ends with "to be continued."
In weiter Ferne, so nah!/Faraway, So Close!, released in 1993, is the sequel to this film. Wings of Desire was at least a strong influence for the writer(s) of City of Angels. Having not seen City of Angels myself, I cannot say for sure whether it rips off Wings of Desire or is merely inspired by it. Unlike City of Angels though (or at least how it appeared to me), the focus of Wings of Desire is not solely romance.
Running time: 130 minutes.