You may already be familiar with Wim Wenders’ work from award-winning documentary films like The Buena Vista Social Club and Pina or English language dramas like Paris, Texas. The longtime filmmaker seems unattached to any single language or particular style. He conveys stories in many different ways.
But that’s not to say all of his films are in English. Far from it. Wenders also released quite a few films in his native German language. Alongside filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog, Wenders is a major part of the New German Cinema movement in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. And he helped shape independent film in the process.
This month’s feature of German-language films for German learners highlights some of Wim Wenders’ most notable German-language films.
Get to Know Wim Wenders
Wim Wenders was born Ernst Wilhem Wenders on August 15, 1945, in Düsseldorf, Germany. In the mid-1960s, he first studied medicine and then philosophy in Germany before abandoning both to move to Paris to pursue an education in painting.
Wenders’ attention then, finally, turned to film. But when he failed to win entrance to France’s national film school, he instead worked as an engraver. It was during this time that his passion for film grew. It is said Wenders would sometimes see up to five films in a single day.
By 1967 he had returned to Germany and was a student at a film and television school in Munich. During that time he also served as a film critic for notable publications like Süddeutsche Zeitung and national weekly Der Spiegel.
His directorial debut came in 1970 with the black and white film Summer in the City
Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)
After his film Paris, Texas, Der Himmel über Berlin likely one of Wenders’ most famous films. Also known by its English title, Wings of Desire, the film takes place in the German capital. The film stars Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander as angels who watch closely over the people of the city and can listen in to their very thoughts.
When Ganz’s character falls in love with one of those people living, a beautiful trapeze artist, it becomes a difficult journey between the lives of the living and those we can no longer be with. The film alternates between color and black and white, depicting the point of view of the angels with the living.
American actor Peter Falk (aka Columbo) makes a rather unexpected appearance in the film. Portraying a character simply known as “The Filmstar,” Falk is an angel who gave up his immortality as an angel in order to be human.
Faraway, so Close! (In weiter Ferne, so nah!)
The sequel to Der Himmel über Berlin, 1993’s In weiter Ferne, so nah! (Faraway, So Close!) might not be quite as enveloping as its predecessor but it is just as moving.
The film is a fascinating journey that follows familiar characters that we, the audience, have grown fond of. (If you haven’t watched Der Himmel über Berlin, there are spoilers ahead.)
Otto Sander, Bruno Ganz, and Peter Falk all return to their roles. Additionally, Willem Dafoe and Nastassja Kinski join the film set in a reunified Berlin.
The story picks up with Cassiel (Sander) who, unlike Damiel (Ganz), is still an angel. But, from a spot atop the Brandenburg Gate, he changes his mind: he wants to be human.
But Cassiel is a bit too naive. He becomes involved with the criminal underworld. Will he destroy his new life?
buy Faraway, So Close!
The American Friend (Der Amerikanische Freund)
1977’s Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) is the big-screen version of Patricia Highsmith’s book Ripley’s Game. The film stars Dennis Hopper stars as Tom Ripley and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Zimmermann, a terminally ill picture framer.
Set in Hamburg, Ripley is a professional con artist and criminal. He manipulates Zimmermann into becoming his accomplice, assisting him in his illegal activities. The film is thrilling and dark.
As you might expect, Hopper doesn’t speak fluent German. The film is notable for the time in that Zimmerman and Riley speak English with one another. But when he’s with other Germans, Zimmerman speaks his native tongue.
Top photo by Peter Lindbergh. This post contains affiliate links.