Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck

Moonstruck – 1987

Director – Norman Jewison

Starring – Cher, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello, and Olympia Dukakis

Through the years there have been many messages, poems, and letters delivered through the medium of the motion pictures. Some are about strong women, some are about the enduring strength of an ideal, and some messages are just downright personal (love for an idea, a theme, or a people or demographic), but there is no more popular subject than community. Groups of people bound by something larger than each of the individuals, something definable and relatable.  Or in the case of Moonstruck, a community of people that works and lives in New York City.

The film, features a rather typical sort of love story.  A widowed woman, Loretta (Cher), is currently in a relationship that is going nowhere.  Her boyfriend isn’t ready to commit to more, but she comes to realize that maybe she is just settling for less to avoid loneliness.  She lives with her parents, and grandparents and spends all day entrenched in the lives of her loud, boisterous, Italian family.  All day long she listens to her mother, Rose, worry about whether or not her husband is cheating, her father just seems to want to be left alone, and she is caught in the middle.

When her boyfriend, Johnny (Danny Aiello) proposes to her, she travels to the bakery where his long estranged brother works to invite him to the wedding.  Ronny (Nic Cage), is a fiery, passion filled man who is nursing a resentment over the girl that his brother stole long ago.  Naturally, this spirited and outspoken man intrigues Loretta, and she falls in love with him instantly.  Tortured by her guilt over the new-found love, and her betrayal of the man who proposed to her, she is forced to choose between the lie that she loves or the love that’s a lie.

The other, of the two, over-arching themes of this film seems to be lies, and though lies and community seem like disparate things, they end up being very closely intertwined.  Each character has a secret, or at the very least a social quirk that they are trying to repress, but due to close quarters of New York City there is always someone paying attention to what they are doing.  This sort of involuntary interaction with neighbors, family, and co-workers means that privacy is really an illusion.  These people then, for lack of anyone better equipped to deal with the situation, become the support system to either validate or discredit what they are doing.

Loretta is seen out on the town with Ronny by her father, who actually IS stepping out with another woman behind Rose’s back.  After watching the constant fighting and break-ups of a fellow lonely soul in the neighborhood restaurant, Rose is spotted by her father-in-law walking home with him after the two share a friendly, yet intimate dinner.  And everyone who surrounds Ronny at the bakery has been silently watching him grieve his failed relationship for years.  These people are all witnesses to lives, and hidden pains of one another.  They catch each other at their very worst, but at the same time represent to each other, a support system that is deeply important and personal.

Though she doesn’t approve of her father stepping out without her mother, Loretta is bound by the guilt brought on by her own infidelity.  They are locked in opposition with one another, yet they still end up helping each other work out a solution by the end of the film.  Perry (the unlucky-in-love, restaurant patron) and Rose can relate to each other’s feelings of loneliness, rejection, and the humiliation that is a natural part of relationships. And though their support is misconstrued by someone else, they are simply providing support for one another.  Finally, Ronny’s support system is his job, and he uses it as a way to give his life meaning until something else, something more rewarding (read: Loretta), comes along to snap him out of it.

Even though the film is a love story, we understand as an omnipotent, the all-seeing audience, that the support structure would be the same if it were a drama, or a slapstick comedy, or even a mystery.  The love story is the background, the paint on the house that is the story of the community.  More than anything this film emphasizes the ideal that communities are not only important, and necessary, but all around us.  They may get us into trouble sometimes, but more often than not, it is these important connections in our lives that inevitably get us out of trouble as well.

I realize that Moonstruck is just a fun little romantic comedy, but it does strive to describe and illustrate the connection that exists in its story.  Cher, Nicholas Cage, and Director, Norman Jewison, are well aware of this, and though it may not reach this ideal consistently throughout the film, the fact that it tries raises Moonstruck up far above the level of most.  Once again, I’m left wondering why something so glorious and wonderful as “Paper Moon” never made this list, as it features similar themes, and in my humble opinion is a far superior film.

“The one thing we can all agree upon when it comes to the art of cinema, is that all movies should have Cher in them.” – Ashley

Der Himmel Uber Berlin (AKA: Wings of Desire) (1987)

Der Himmel Uber Berlin (AKA: Wings of Desire) – 1987

Director – Wim Wenders

Starring – Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, and Peter Falk

Tackling the spiritual subject of the lives of Angels and their influence on the lives of human beings, Wings of Desire follows  Damiel (played by Bruno Ganz) as he becomes fascinated with and eventually falls in love with a young trapeze artist (Marion Played by Solveig Dommartin) performing in West Berlin (pre-fall of the Berlin Wall).  The film aspires to much more than simplistic confirmation of faith or belief.  Instead, Wim Wenders struggles with the ideas of how his angel characters experience the world while avoiding the cliché of making them infallible beings of infinite grace and experience.

Firstly, if the story seems familiar, you might be thinking of the far inferior re-make, City of Angels, starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.  If you haven’t seen the re-make, congratulations, if you have, at least it can only go up hill by watching this film after the fact.  The story follows an angel named Damiel who, along with his fellow angel Cassiel, roams the city following humans through all stages of their daily and life-changing experiences.  As the story progresses, Damiel expresses his desire to experience the things that people do everyday (food, love, human contact, tactile sensations, pain, smells, etc…), and his ultimate desire to leave his angelic status behind and become human.

The look of the film mirrors the pacing and the story in-so-much-as it is very lyrical and flowing.  The world of the angels is very stark, and contrasty, filmed entirely in a silky black and white.  Every crag and wrinkle of the people that they follow are visible, just as it would appear to an omnipresent, all-seeing angel.  The human world, however, is filmed in lush, saturated color.  Every joy, and mood, and taste, and experience of the human condition is on display visually, contrasted with the stark black and white world of absolutes.  The passion and experience that these visuals convey, represent the question that Damiel is wrestling with throughout the entire movie.  Is a life of passion, and emotion more satisfying than a life of eternal order, and knowledge, when each is separated from the other.  Is there a halfway point between the two worlds, and if so, do the benefits of one out-weigh the other.

I have to say that I didn’t really notice the music in this film, with the exception of the very obvious concert scene featuring Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and that isn’t necessarily bad, it just is.  Overall the film seemed very quiet and relied heavily on the weight of silence and the power of dialogue.  This means that you don’t get the standard emotional swell of music when you are supposed to feel happy, or sad, or angry.  Since you still feel these emotions, it is clear that despite the absence of these musical cues, the movie is strong enough to get across its points without them.

One other element that may seem familiar is the lead actor, Bruno Ganz.  If he seems familiar, it might be because he is a famous face in modern German cinema, most famously for playing Hitler in the film Downfall.  His power as an actor is obvious when you watch him on-screen.  For a film that is so visually striking as this one, when you find yourself trying to choose whether to look at the beautiful scenery or keeping your eye on the main actor, you know that you’re watching a dynamic performer.  The actor (or actress if you prefer) who plays Marion, Solveig Dommartin, imbues the role with a luminosity that makes you believe an angel might choose a mortal life.  Her wistful carefree nature provides the romance of the story, while ironically it is Ganz who provides the audience with necessary grounding and realism.

Wings of Desire is a slow-paced film, one that relishes the opportunity to show the characters, situations, and the world that it’s about, but it is very worth the time and energy spent watching it.  Wim Wender’s visual poem to the city of Berlin is a definite influence on indie movement in the films of the early nineties, and on into the 2000s and beyond.