FARAWAY, SO CLOSE!
Review by Michael Jacobson
Otto Sander, Peter Falk, Horst Burchholz, Bruno Ganz, Nastassja Kinski,
Director: Wim Wenders
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Commentary Track, Trailers, Talent Files
Length: 146 Minutes
Release Date: September 12, 2000
Like the title itself, Faraway,
So Close! is a film that attempts to bring opposing aspects and ideas under
one blanket. Most notably is the
concept of trying to unify secular and humanistic points of view, but beyond
that, the picture is also a stylistic hodgepodge, mixing black and white with
color, actors in fictional roles with actors playing themselves, actors
appearing in flashback form as fathers and mothers of their modern day
characters, and finally, jumbling English and German languages together, mostly
in mid-conversation. The result is
a film with many ideas, but little focus; one that tries to find a voice and
purpose through chance and optimism, but never really stumbles across any.
I never saw director Wim Wendersí film Wings of Desire, and as such, I had no idea this picture was a
continuation of that one until he mentioned it in the commentary track.
That would explain some of my initial confusion.
In Wings of Desire, he
introduced two angels, Cassiel (Sander) and Damiel (Ganz).
At the end of the story, Damiel became human, Cassiel did not.
This movie picks up with them in unified Berlin, where Damiel lives like
a man and has a family, and Cassiel still watches humanity with an ever
In Wendersí film, angels observe humans, but canít
directly interfere. Sometimes,
their presence can be felt like words coming from the heart, or when a person is
dying, and an angel is there to comfort them and guide them into the great
beyond. They are immortal, and as
such, have no concept of time. Cassielís
story in the movie actually goes back to World War II, where he witnessed half
of a family escaping from the Nazis. As
fate would have it, he would get to play an active part in helping the other
half escape from a crime organization in modern times.
One common link with just about all films that deal with
angels is how much they supposedly want to be one of us, and how willing they
are to trade immortality and knowledge for the ability to feel pain, sorrow and
death. Here, Wenders emphasizes
this point by showing us the world through the angelsí eyes in black and
white. Only human point of view
shots switch to color.
Cassiel does become human, only to find that life is not as easy as he hoped. With no money, identification or background, heís nothing more than a street person, and is ripe for the temptations of the world, which are gladly provided by the devilish Emit (Dafoe). He succumbs to despair, and to drink, and eventually nearly falls in with a black market underworld of guns and adult movies.
But time for human beings is finite, a concept Cassiel is
slowly getting used to. He became
human because he wanted to do good, but finds that doing good takes a lot more
than will. Like any mortal,
redemption becomes a defining issue, and Cassiel eventually proves himself ready
to seek and receive it.
I wanted very much to like this film more than I did.
Technically, itís quite a marvel, with styles owing to both Robert
Altman and Ingmar Bergman. It has a
great look and feel to it, particularly in the way the camera seems to defy
gravity along with the flights of the characters.
But by the time the picture was over, I had to conclude that it was
merely an experiment with nothing to say. It
plays out like trying to find the answers to a string of Ďwhat ifí
questions: what if we could see the
new Berlin through the eyes of angels? What
if angels who became human could become just as lost as the rest of us?
What if you went from observer to participant in the lives youíve
watched? What if the concept of
time became real to someone for whom it never existed?
And the film eagerly explores each question, but in such a way that draws
no real conclusions.
As mentioned, the occasional playfulness of having actors
playing themselves in the story (Peter Falk, Lou Reed, and Mikhail Gorbachev)
adds to the muddling of the message. None
of them adds anything to the story, so what was the point?
In the commentary track, Wenders mentions that Gorbachev became available
to him for two hours, where he improvised a few lines for the camera, and then
left the picture. Does this sound like the product of a focused filmmaker?
I also didnít care for the fact that German and English were
interchangeably used, even in straight dialogues between two characters.
Sometimes the same sentence would begin in one language and end in the
other. I donít know if this is realistic as far as conversation in
Germany goes, but here, itís a major distraction to the ear, and quite
possibly the harbinger of a headache.
The best singular aspect is the work of Otto Sander as
Cassiel. His performance is strong,
emotional, and fully realized. He
helps the audience to see the beauty of our world through the eyes of an angel,
and later, the despair and pain we tend to bring upon ourselves.
He makes for a solid protagonist that helps lead the viewers through the
muddled tendencies of the film.
And the film has some good moments.
The scene where Cassiel in human form speaks to the now aged chauffeur
who drove the getaway car in the World War II flashback and helps him remember
the goodness of his life is a beautiful one, and extremely moving.
The family moments are also real and loving, and demonstrate in subtle
ways humanity at its best. Itís
just a shame that scenes like these couldnít connect themselves to something
This is a beautiful transfer from Columbia Tri Star, one
that is able to boast near perfection as both a color and a black and white
film. The black and white segments
are crisp, sharp and clear, with good contrast levels and a full, distinct
grayscale range, and come across with no noticeable grain or break-up.
The color segments are vivid and natural looking with no bleeding or
compression artifacts save a tiny bit of grain in a few of the low light
segments, particularly on the darkest images in them.
The print used in the transfer is clean and virtually free from spots,
dirt and other debris. Consider this yet another quality DVD entry from CST.
Though only offering a Dolby 2-channel surround, I found
the audio highly satisfactory. The
front stereo stage contains a wide spread for the dialogue, though audio panning
doesnít come across QUITE as fluid as it might have with a center channel.
The rears come into play a little more than many standard surround
tracks, with musical cues and intermittent sound effects that serve the story
well. The dynamic range is about
medium, but the nature of the picture doesnít really require any more than
that. The sound is very clean and
noise free, and dialogue comes across well (not counting the language jumbling).
Plus, the movie features a terrific song score, with artists such as U2,
Lou Reed, Nick Cave and others participating.
Overall, a quality, serviceable audio track.
The disc contains a commentary track with Wim Wenders,
which is a resource youíll probably need if you care enough to try going back
and sorting through everything. This
is a perfect commentary track to go with a foreign film, too, because Wenders
speaks a lot about the actors we might not be familiar with, as well as the
cultural background of post-Cold War Berlin, which helps bring some of the
picture into perspective. His
English is very good, and his speaking style is relaxed and comfortable, with
great care towards expressing his thoughts and feelings.
The disc also contains three trailers, and although the box lists
production notes, it actually has talent files on Wenders and his lead actors
One troublesome aspect, however, is the subtitles.
Despite the fact that the dialogue is mostly German, the subtitles
donít default on. And when you
choose them, you get subtitles all the way, for both English and German speech.
This is something that could have, and should have, been done a lot