Arts That Silence
posted by August 6 at 14:10 PMon
It is nearly impossible to surpass the cinematic splendor of the first 15 minutes of Der Himmel über Berlin:
Wender’s angels fly over Berlin, glide through apartment buildings, enter jet planes approaching Berlin, exit cars rushing in and around the city streets. And when an angel nears a person, we hear their thoughts: This person is thinking about his father, that person is thinking about his girl; this one about tomorrow, the other one about yesterday.
The movie dies when the angels stop flying and gliding. The death of the film is caused by the start of the narrative—the story about how one angel wants to become a human. The rest of the movie is useless. But there is one major problem in the magical opening: When an angel comes close to a car driven by an Arab woman, he does not hear her thoughts. The Arab has an empty head. She thinks of nothing. Even Peter Falk (Columbo) has thoughts. We hear him thinking (mumbling thoughts) in a plane that’s flying into Berlin. The American is self-conscious, not the Arab.
The silence of the Arab spoils everything. It’s a silence that is not unrelated to Heidegger’s notorious post-World War II silence. What must be remembered at all times is that Islam is the second largest religion in Europe. The fact that the angel doesn’t have ears for the voices of a such a large community (ummah) within Europe, within Berlin, is a fact that can’t be forgiven.