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Monday, August 6, 2007

That Silence

posted by on August 6 at 14:10 PM

It is nearly impossible to surpass the cinematic splendor of the first 15 minutes of Der Himmel über Berlin:
54angels_wings1-1.jpg 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.

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Yeah! Angels are stupid!

Posted by NaFun | August 6, 2007 2:26 PM

The arab is probably a muslim. It has been thoroughly established that hating on muslims isn't racism.

Posted by The Baron | August 6, 2007 2:32 PM

I have no idea why but this post struck me as hysterical. ( in a good way)

Posted by mj | August 6, 2007 2:32 PM

This started out good. Then it went south. Into Austria.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 6, 2007 2:35 PM

Or perhaps Wenders is making a comment about a class of people being silenced.

As a side note: "On a trip to Europe, [Mohsen] Makhmalbaf was so deeply moved by Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire that he made blasphemous remarks on his return to Iran. “If God must send a new prophet, his name will be Wim Wenders,” he declared."

Posted by MvB | August 6, 2007 2:47 PM

Maybe the arab was so at peace that she was able to clear her mind in silent meditation.

Posted by monkey | August 6, 2007 2:54 PM

Damn. Every time he has an up, he falls... like an angel who lost his/her wings. Urg. That hurt to type.

Posted by Ryan | August 6, 2007 3:18 PM

You should place this in its context, Charles. Not today. 1987. What was the "Arab" population in Berlin in 1987? Is this even relevant to the scene? And left out in your post - is this woman the only person whose thoughts are not heard? Does the angel hear each thought in a passing bus? Is it possible it was not the Arab that had no thoughts, but the woman? Perhaps another sort of silence that doesn't resonate in your own heavily biased head? Does this filmmaker have a responsibility to provide voice for all Arabs? Why?

Ahhhhh...back to Mudede being Mudede. It's like having oxygen after drowning.

Posted by switzerblog | August 6, 2007 3:22 PM
What was the "Arab" population in Berlin in 1987?

I don't know, but I do know the people in that scene were Turks---so not at all Arab.

I also recall them having lines---something about sticking your head out the window.

Posted by n | August 6, 2007 4:11 PM

Yes, the movie died as soon as the narrative began.

This post offers a lot of insight into the screenplay for "Police Beat."

Posted by demolator | August 6, 2007 4:32 PM

@9 - so you mean they're as Arab as the Iranians are? as in, not at all?

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 6, 2007 4:41 PM

Why SHOULD the angel be able to hear the arab woman's thoughts? She's talking to a different god, after all...

Posted by steph | August 6, 2007 4:42 PM

I expected a greater degree of cultural literacy from Charles Mudede when it comes to spotting literary references in wankfest German art films.

The strangely blank Arab is a reference to Camus' The Stranger - the book that at least shares a title with this newspaper.

Posted by Roger Williams | August 7, 2007 12:43 AM

Fuck Chaz and his awful analysis of anything. Either stop smoking weed so you can put together a coherent thought or start smoking more weed so you're at least funny. Your inability to be insightful or funny is pathetic and a disservice to reading audiences everywhere.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | August 7, 2007 1:55 AM

I am not even going to address the Arab comment, plenty of others have and have addressed it well.

What I don't understand is how do you believe that the film die when the narrative begins? The scenes in the club with Nick Cave are some of the most sensual minutes ever caught on film. The Berlin Wall, the extra people, Peter Faulk, come on! This film is humorous, life affirming, beautiful and sad and in no way worse off for the narrative.

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