Friday, August 22, 2008
Faraway, So Close! (1993)
Wim Wenders’ follow-up feature to his legendary Wings of Desire is simultaneously one of his most flawed productions and most resonate. Gone is the moody perfection that inhabited so much of his early career, and in its place in Faraway, So Close! is a sprawling over-ambitiousness that is as beautiful as it is frustrating and as poignant as it is flawed.
Of the three films Nastassja Kinski made with Wim Wenders, Faraway, So Close! is the weakest and yet there is something profound and right about it. Faraway, So Close! is a overtly spiritual work that has moments that rank along with the best of Wenders, but it’s hard to deny that the film falters in ways that Wenders work hadn’t before it. It’s a film that finds the great German director transitioning from one of the shining lights of the art house world into one of the most fractured.
Wings of Desire was a phenomenal success for Wenders and is arguably the pinnacle of his career. A near unanimous critical smash that is often featured along with Scorsese’s Raging Bull as the best film of the eighties, Wings of Desire was one of the oddest choices for a film to make a sequel to so Faraway, So Close! automatically had a lot going against it.
One of the most anticipated films at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and one of the most controversial, Wenders Faraway, So Close! split audience and critical reaction more than any of his films prior had. Even the admires (and there is a lot to admire abut the film) were more muted than usual and its critics were much more vicious.
The film, written by Wenders with Richard Reitinger and Ulrich Zieger, like Wings of Desire centers on a group of Angels in Berlin looking over the people in the city. Also, like Wings of Desire, it features cameos from real life figures including everyone from Lou Reed to Peter Falk to most astonishingly Mikhail Gorbachev.
The positives from Wender’s sprawling film are easy to note. A incredibly beautiful looking mostly black and white production shot by legendary DP Jurgen Jurges, Faraway, So Close!is at the very least one of the most striking looking films from the early nineties. The acclaimed soundtrack, featuring a beautiful score by Laurent Petitgand and songs by the likes of Reed, U2 and Simon Bonney has also held up very well. This is also clearly one of the most personal projects Wenders ever mounted and its clear-headed spirituality is downright touching. There’s nothing ironic about Wender’s work here and its good-heartedness and good-will make it one of the most spiritually resonate works in all of modern cinema.
Unfortunately the negatives are just as easy to spot. Overlong and sloppy, the film never finds a consistent tone and for the first time in his career Wenders seems downright confused by the film he is making. Part political commentary about the reunification of Germany that had happened after Wings of Desire and part Spiritual confirmation, Faraway, So Close! marks a surprisingly unbalanced period for Wenders, one that unfortunately he has still not fully recovered from.
Despite the films many faults, its virtues finally outweigh them. The cast is extraordinary with special mention going to German actors Otto Sander and Bruno Ganz. The American actors in the film, including Falk and Willem Dafoe, are also quite splendid in their smaller roles. If the film does finally feel a bit bloated due to the cameos, Lou Reed does reverberate nicely specifically in a chill inducing moment when he plays his “Berlin” in his hotel room.
Nastassja is really fine in her role as the good hearted angel Raphaela and it remains one of her most resoundingly tender roles. There is something special in the collaboration between Kinski and Wenders and that comes out here, even though one wishes more time would have been spent on her character rather than the irritatingly silly action subplots that film becomes occupied with in its last forth.
Faraway, So Close! surprisingly won the Grand Prize at the 93 Cannes festival but the disappointment many people felt with it was palatable, and by the time it reached Britain and the States the sharp backlash was in full force. The soundtrack ended up being a much bigger success than the film did, and after a brief theatrical run it was relegated to a poor full frame VHS that destroyed the film’s stately compositions. Most English speaking countries would have to wait nearly ten years to see a decent copy of the film but thankfully the Widescreen DVD of it is quite nice, and it even contains a commentary by Wenders where he manages to highlight the films many virtues and faults.