City of Angels was more than a trivial melody (but it was not understood)

City of Angels was more than a trivial melody (but it was not understood)

City of Angels turns 25, and it remains one of those films of which it is still difficult for critics and the public to speak well, or finally to speak badly. What is certain is that it cannot leave us indifferent, perhaps because we understand that it is more than it seems, but perhaps it was less than it could have been. Strengthened by a captivating cast and aesthetics, Silberling's film enjoyed a commercial success which, however, was not counterbalanced by a universally favorable opinion from critics. And yet, after so many years, the feeling of an inexplicable charm remains, which goes beyond aesthetics, to embrace an identity as simple as it is effective: that of a film on the importance of living one's life to the fullest.

A story far from its time

City of Angels is one of the quintessential romantic films of the 90s, while remaining something very different from a mere commercial operation, as well as from a remake.

Wim Wenders with Sky Over Berlin had in all probability reached his peak as an author six years earlier, proving to be capable of creating a poignant narrative centered on a place, Berlin, and on a particular moment in the his story. Wenders had set himself up as a narrator of the relationship between man and imperfect everyday life, however above all creating a metaphor of divided Germany after the Second World War. Brad Silberling with City of Angels recovered the soul of Wenders' operation, however adapting it to a film that spoke above all of death, of rebirth, of America that ran perhaps too quickly and superficially towards the 21st century dominated by technology and superficiality. But above all, he decided to create a love story far from the clich├ęs of his time.

Silbering brought everything to the Los Angeles of that time, following the path of fallen angel Seth (Nicolas Cage) and Maggie (Meg Ryan), destined to cross. Seth is enchanted by the willpower with which Maggie, a surgeon, tries in every way to save lives. In her he sees the possibility of understanding humanity, which she has been observing for an eternity, but whose essence escapes him and at the same time fascinates. It will be at that moment that he will decide to take the leap, to stop being an angel and apply his free will to become human, facing a flood of unknown sensations and experiences. All while an atypical love story develops between him and Maggie, with her as his guide and vice versa. As in Wenders' film, Seth is not one of the many places to observe from above, in every sense, that humanity that swarms under him, that world created by the Almighty from which, however, he escapes due to his location, almost everything worth knowing.

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Paradoxes and contradictions

City of Angels was once defined by critics as a purely commercial operation, a sort of sacrilege to a great European metaphysical and cultural fresco. But was it really like that? Does focusing on feelings really mean just talking about them? A vision that appears to be tainted by an intolerance towards Silberling's desire to make here triumph over elsewhere. The paradox is that in several moments, the film almost seems to suggest the opposite, but on a closer look, what Seth does is try in every way to detach himself from the concept of immortality distant from humanity, and enjoy the now and now, of this world so fleeting and uncontrollable. Moreover, it was a moment in which the New Age still reigned, in perfect contrast with the desire for an alternative spirituality to the dogmas that had dominated up to that moment. And of all this tribulation both Seth and Maggie were symbols.

We absolutely do not want to compete between two completely different works at the level of artistic conception, but also of semantics and semiotics. However, City of Angels is anything but a superficial film, especially within that universe which were the various romantic comedies or dramas, which in the 90s experienced a surge not always accompanied by a quality up to par. When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, A Love of His Own were films that often followed obvious and not very daring plots. The paradox is that Meg Ryan, America's sweetheart, would have known a unique popularity with this genre, of which this film was also an undeniable attempt to elevate it. Nicolas Cage, if today he is grappling with a wonderfully anarchic and over the top career, at the time he was above all a sex symbol and an action star plagued by lack of consideration. In City of Angels he had under the top, vulnerable acting for one of the coolest characters of his career.

Seth moves continuously towards enlightenment, he does it with a continuous downward movement, even in the sea, seeking the truth in the human being and in our conception of the divine. Basically he escapes from a fence, from a prison, but without the corrupting collapse mentioned by the Devil's Advocate for example, as was Bruno Ganz for Wenders, he does not deny what he was but I have to leave him to be something else. In this, City of Angels, while lacking the grace of the words created for Wenders by Peter Handke, remains an essential tale of personal rediscovery of the meaning of life. It also applies to Maggie, who thanks to Seth will be able to find joy in life again, something perhaps very Hollywood but not despicable for this. If the Sky Above Berlin showed us the German capital where the stench of death, of destruction still lingered, the heavy division into East and West that would soon fall, Silberling's film moved everything to America in constant change .

The set was not set in the Big Apple, the film city par excellence in the United States, but in the city of angels precisely, the strongest symbol of opposition that the America has. The rubble of the National Socialist dream was contrasted here with a city that was adorned with wonderful sunsets, described by those almost unreal colors that seemed to come from commercials, video clips, from the 90s cinema that revolutionized everything. City of Angels, however, reminded us that no city was more representative of the America of those years than Los Angeles. It had been like this for a long time, with that contrast between Hollywood, the myth, the best of movie and music stars, and then crime, drug traffickers, poverty, the various ghettos from which African-American artists would emerge who would change the narration. Only a few years earlier the city had given way to a series of riots that had in fact unleashed a kind of biblical apocalypse on the streets, due to the beating of Rodney King .

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Telling love

The story of Seth and Maggie was enhanced by a city whose however we received a minimal portrait often, almost distant and stylized, to symbolize a link with the sky that already starts from this world, from this earth. Of course, Seth moves as a symbol of man's distrust of God, of elsewhere, which does not count, counts on that beginning of technocracy, the now, what we see, hear, touch, understand. Hemingway and other authors are quoted, we move from heaven to darkness, from top to bottom, however this must not and cannot make us forget that City of Angels is above all a great love story, a great act of mutual understanding .

Seth makes Meggie understand that there is an elsewhere, understood as another way of conceiving oneself, while she teaches him how important this material reality is, however ephemeral and fleeting. Perhaps the greatest quality of City of Angels, however, was in its ability to be humble in any case, not to weigh everything down, above all to never lose control.

At 25 years old away, Silberling, who has always narrated of death, rebirth and salvation, remains the author of a film that is striking for its delicacy, for how it describes this love story. Of course, it can also be accused of idealization, of an excess of sugar compared to Wenders' transcendence, but deep down it represents everything we would want from a sentimental relationship: the discovery of something new, the possibility of starting afresh with someone who makes us discover new parts of ourselves and of the universe around us. City of Angels is a very pop film, but compared to its followers in recent years, it emerges disarmingly head-on, net of some small naiveties in the screenplay. City of Angels was a film that, more than making us fall in love with the idea of ​​falling in love, explained how to fall in love with change. Something that some might even find simplistic, except that in everyday life it is precisely what we often and willingly lack.

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