on 27 January 2009
This is a movie you will either love or hate. If you are looking for plot, action or realism, don't go there. If you love Frank Capra and "It's a Wonderful Life", this movie is for you. Percy Adlon is a German indie director with a strange sense of humour (well, he is German after all) but a warm feeling for humanity and its potential.
A German couple quarrel in the desert, leaving the wife Jasmin (Marianne Sagerbrecht) stranded; she staggers to the run-down Bagdad Cafe by the highway, checks into the sleazy motel, and proceeds to change the lives of the dead-end no-hopers who are washed up there. Chief among these is the sour Brenda (CCH Pounder), who runs the cafe and drags her feckless husband, dreamy son and flighty daughter in her wake. More than that would be unfair to say, except to indicate that Magic is important to the minimal plot, and Magic is the business of the film. At one point a character says, "The magic has gone," and that's true both literally and metaphorically.
The performances have been criticised elsewhere here, but I see nothing wrong with them at all. Perhaps more importantly, everyone looks perfect for their parts, with the exception of Jack Palance who is under-used.
For the first 20 minutes or so I was frustrated by the jumpy, nudging directorial style which seemed to be trying to say that the movies was funnier than it actually was. In truth it's a bit of a slow burn, but patience is rewarded as soon as you allow yourself to be drawn towards these oddballs.
Much is unexplained. Why does Marianne decide to stay here? Why is Brenda's husband always watching through binoculars from a nearby hillside? How come Marianne's husband never comes looking for her? How come Brenda's son Salomo (Darren Flagg) happens to have acquired both the sheet music to Bach's Preludes and Fugues in the middle of nowhere, and the ability to play them? (Where the hell would anybody go to school?) These things will either worry you or they won't. I say, relax and enjoy.
Marianne Sagebrecht was a big star for a short time, thanks to this film and Rosalie Goes Shopping, also directed by Percy Adlon, and a previous one called Sugarbaby made in German and therefore less widely seen. She has a remarkable personal charm that is really at the centre of this amiable film, although all the performances are very good. The problem with this kind of material, which is basically "feel-good' but dressed up with more arty credentials, is how to avoid its sweetness becoming all too much. This is probably what led Adlon to make the opening part so long. Two women, both splitting from husbands acrimoniously, find themselves in the same space in the desert truck-stop and motel, where the German Jasmin feels miserable and feisty Brenda becomes all but unbearable. CCH Pounder does well in this role, but there is a lot of shouting from her in the earlier part of the film, which sets up a jarring note. This grounds the film in a certain emotional realism, as she has the failing cafe to cope with alone, plus two teenage children and the baby of one of these. Adlon counts on the magic arriving and lifting the viewer, like the characters, as if suddenly caught in the middle of a double rainbow. And it really does work, so that by the end, the magic show is totally joyous. The attention to colour and texture in the shots is consistently magical and plays up the fairy-tale element of the film. Jack Palance is pretty amazing too - what a face, what ageless charm and vitality he brings to an admittedly slim role. In the end, though, it is Sagebrecht's unique appeal that is perhaps most memorable, offset by a number of performances that are ultimately irresistible, and a marvellous open-hearted sense of a political message in there somewhere that never becomes too concrete or heavy.
on 29 July 2014
BAGDAD CAFÉ  [Directors Cut Long Version] [Blu-ray] [French Import] It’s More Than A Good Time! It’s A Meal!
`BAGDAD CAFÉ' [`Out of Rosenheim'] is a 1987 German film directed by Percy Adlon. It is a comedy set in a remote truck-stop café and motel in the Mojave Desert in the US state of California. It centres on two women who have recently separated from their husbands, and the blossoming friendship that ensues. It runs 95 minutes in the U.S.A., but 108 minutes with this French version.
FILM FACT: 1988: won Best Foreign Language Film at the 23rd Guldbagge Awards. 1988: Won: Bavarian Film Award Best Screenplay for Eleonore Adlon and Percy Adlon. 1988: Won: Ernst Lubitsch Award for Percy Adlon. 1989: Nominated: OSCAR® for Best Music for Original Song for Bob Telson for the song "Calling You." 1989: Won: Amanda Best Foreign Feature Film for Percy Adlon. 1989: Won: Artios Best Casting for Feature Film, Comedy for Al Onorato and Jerold Franks. 1989: Won: César Best Foreign Film for Percy Adlon.
Cast: Marianne Sägebrecht, C.C.H. Pounder, Jack Palance, Christine Kaufmann, Monica Calhoun, Darron Flagg, George Aguilar, G. Smokey Campbell, Hans Stadlbauer, Alan S. Craig, Apesanahkwat, Ronald Lee Jarvis, Mark Daneri, Ray Young and Gary Lee Davis
Director: Percy Adlon
Producers: Percy Adlon, Eleonore Adlon and Dietrich von Watzdorf
Screenplay: Percy Adlon (story/screenplay), Eleonore Adlon and Christopher Doherty
Composer: Bob Telson
Cinematography: Bernd Heinl
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1 [Anamorphic]
Audio: French: 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and English: 5.1 DTS-HD Stereo Master Audio [French Subtitles]
Subtitles: French and English
Running Time: 108 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: 'BAGDAD CAFÉ' is a German film in English [with French Subtitles] directed by Percy Adlon but set in the Mojave Desert of the United States. The unrelenting sun and constant dusty wind create an inhospitable place that appears to be detached and isolated from anywhere else.
A Bavarian husband and wife, in full Alpine regalia have a falling out at a remote picnic place. She opts to walk and he drives off never to be seen again. Off trudges Jasmin, dragging her overfull suitcase behind her along the dusty and empty road. Eventually she comes across the Bagdad Café oil and gas station and motel. German tourist Jasmin Münchgstetttner [Marianne Sägebrecht] and her husband are feeling the kind of tension that any couple who's ever travelled together will immediately recognise, and tilted cameras suggest that everything is more than a little "off." Quickly the argument escalates, with the couple shouting at each other in German (no subtitles for this opening sequence) and the woman getting out of the car in the middle of nowhere. The husband drives off without her . . . but leaves their Rosenheim thermos/coffee maker on the side of the road before kicking up a cloud of dust.
Just prior to her arrival we are introduced to the characters at the cafe. The Café is run by Brenda and her laid back and easy going husband. They quarrel and the volatile Brenda's chiding drives the husband away, he leaves. Brenda is left with her son who only wants to practice Bach on the piano, his six month old baby who is brought up by everyone, her daughter who is more interested in men than school and the bar tender/cook. Mr Cox [Jack Palance] an ageing Hollywood has-been who lives in a caravan on the property of the motel and a tattoo artist runs her business from a room on the motel, but the suggestion is truckers get more than an tattoo when they visit her!
In the distance are a rail-road and a busy freeway, both presumably carrying the traffic that used to pass the Bagdad Café which appears to have very few customers. This is a very dysfunctional and bleak situation that Jasmin walks into. The welltodo and immaculate appearance of Jasmin strikes a stark contrast with the dusty, dishevelled and dysfunctional cafe and motel. Brenda is suspicious of a German woman walking out of the desert and takes an instant dislike to Jasmin. Jasmin pays for a room for the night and trudges off to the motel block to find her room. It is then that she discovers she has taken her husband's case containing his clothes and a magic set – presumably a souvenir from Las Vegas.
A short walk down the desert highway lays the rundown Bagdad Café, a combined diner, gas station, and motel that saw better days about 30 years ago. Here too, a married couple is having an argument, and the quick-tempered African-American woman named Brenda [C.C.H. Pounder] who does all the work basically tells her husband to get his lazy ass out of there. So the stage is set for this stranger to work her magic not only on Café owner Brenda, but on an array of quasi-permanent motel dwellers is a former Hollywood set painter [Jack Palance] who fancies himself a "real" artist; a tattoo artist [Christine Kaufmann] who makes a get-by living servicing the truck drivers that stop to gas up; a backpacker who's into boomerangs and a handful of regular customers, and Brenda's children. Even the kids are quirky, with an out-of-control teen [Monica Calhoun] who ignores her mom and goes off in the cab of a big rig and returns in a convertible with a car full of boys; a boy who wants to be a concert pianist Salomo [Darron Flagg] and does nothing but practice all the time; and a baby that Brenda seems too irritated to tend to.
The following morning when Brenda is cleaning Jasmin's room, she is shocked to discover men's clothing hanging up everywhere and shaving equipment set out in the bathroom. Her suspicions heightened, she calls the local Sheriff and asks him to investigate. The Sheriff arrives and checks Jasmin's passport and return ticket and discovers that they are in order. Over the course of the following days, Jasmin works her way into the affections of the residents and becomes accepted by everyone except Brenda. Jasmin helps with the cleaning, childminding and other chores but goes too far with Brenda when she cleans and tidies the chaotic and filthy motel office while Brenda is on a trip into town. Brenda orders the rubbish to be returned and while Jasmin unpacks it, Brenda comes to her senses and accepts Jasmin's gesture.
All the while, Jasmin has been learning magic tricks and tries some on the few customers of the cafe. Discovering she is good at it, she develops her craft and combines this with waiting at table in the cafe. Truckers spread the word and soon the cafe is bursting to its seams every day. Jasmin has worked her magic and through it transformed the community that centres its life at the café. The Sheriff stops by and on discovering Jasmin still there informs her that her visa has expired and that she must leave. The café returns to its past moribund state and one of the characters observes that “the magic is gone.” Then one day Jasmin returns and life and the energy is totally restored to the Bagdad Café and the truckers return in their droves. Brenda and her husband are reconciled and everyone lives happily ever after, or do they, that you will have to find out when you purchase this brilliant Blu-ray disc.
Nine years after the Utah/US Film Festival was founded to encourage independent filmmaking and four years before it was renamed the Sundance Film Festival, a little comedy called `Bagdad Café' (originally titled `Out of Rosenheim' in Europe) seemed to herald a full-blown "Indie" movement that would emerge in the 1990s, both in the America and overseas. Fans of independent films will recognise the ingredients: small subjects with big implications, a script that's more artful than commercial, an emphasis on character over plot, a tone that appeals to the intellect as much as the emotions, leisurely pacing, distinctive camera work despite the low budget, quirky/offbeat situations and characters, and a heavy dose of irony or dry humour. ‘BAGDAD CAFÉ’ has all of those things, and while it obviously aims for a sophisticated audience, just as the main character slowly grows on people in the film, it can draw in reluctant viewers.
This is an odd film that you need to let wash over you. Too much critical analysis and the patchy acting, lumpy dialogue and fantasy elements of the film become too apparent. That the power of transformation is dependent on Jasmin's presence is paramount. The musical fantasy number at the end belongs to a different era and probably a different film. ‘Bagdad Café' is a film that plays out like a fable, with any number of morals: walk a mile in someone's shoes before you judge them; strangeness and foreignness are both relative; kindness wins out over anger; and there's magic to be found in everyday life . . . even in an isolated, windblown outpost like Bagdad, California. Too many indie directors confuse realism with pessimism, but director Percy Adlon isn't one of them and at least not for "Bagdad Café," his first film in English shot in the U.S.A. Though he would never recapture the magic that seemed to spontaneously combust in this quirky comedy, at least this one time he wasn't afraid of positive developments or happy endings. And he's not afraid of using literal magic to suggest the metaphoric kind.
The script relies on one coincidence, especially in the heat of the moment, Jasmin grabs her husband's suitcase instead, inside which is a magic kit he apparently bought in nearby Las Vegas and readers are asked to believe that from this one little kit a German tourist can learn enough magic over a short time to help transform the cafe into a thriving entertainment destination. But it's easy enough to accept that, because the focus is so much on the characters and the bleak surroundings that we're more than ready to buy into some magic.
There are some fun touches in 'BAGDAD CAFÉ' as well. When the camera zooms in on Brenda and her husband Sal [G. Smokey Campbell] and she storms off stage right, she reappears suddenly stage left, having circled the camera/viewer and broken that fourth wall in a grand way. It's fun too how Percy Adlon and co-writer Eleonore Adlon use the running gag of Rudi painting Jasmin holding various fruits and in gradual stages of undress to suggest her growing comfort not only with the painter, but with a budding friendship that develops with Brenda and her children. Same too with their use of Brenda's husband after he leaves. As he watches from his car through binoculars and says, "Oh Brenda!" every time her short fuse turns into another explosion, you realise that it's a clever variant on the Greek chorus.
Percy Adlon is saying something in this film about Europe and America, about the old and the new, about the edge of the desert as the edge of the American Dream. I am not sure exactly what it is, but that is comforting of sorts; if a director could assemble these strange characters and then know for sure what they were doing in the same movie together, he would be too confident to find the humour in their situation. The charm of `Bagdad Café' is that every character and every moment is unanticipated, obscurely motivated, of uncertain meaning and vibrating with life.
I'm not sure how much repeat play 'BAGDAD CAFÉ' will warrant but the film's recurring theme, "Calling You," is so overused and it can get slightly annoying to some people, but I loved it so much I bought the Soundtrack Compact Disc Album, which is a must have, as Percy Adlon explains in great detail about the film and how different it is to the finished long version film that I have from France and nowhere else do you get the longest version, it is totally unique to France, but for an evening of quirky comedy, this odd cinematic fable really is sort of totally magical. Jack Palance, C.C.H. Pounder, and Marianne Sägebrecht are fun to watch. `Bagdad Café' is rated Adult for nudity and strong language. This simple poetic film may not be everyone's cup of tea but it could haunt you for days if you let yourself go and relish the nuances of the film.
The film was shot in the Sidewinder Café, Newberry Springs. Few miles away, in a Californian ghost town, the original abandoned Bagdad Cafe is situated. The Sidewinder Cafe took advantage of the film's popularity and changed its name to Bagdad Café, which has now become a tourist attraction. It is said that German Director Percy Adlon's trip with his wife Eleonore Adlon through this desert inspired him to make the film. Is it worth watching, yes it is very. The film is a story about transformation and redemption, but an interesting and off-beat film.
Blu-ray Video Quality – The video presentation can sometimes look a little grainy at times, but that was what Percy Adlon wanted it to look like. Where there are large expanses of white or negative space there's considerable noise, and the colours themselves look as if a black-and-white film had been slightly colorized, but again this is how Percy Adlon wanted it to look. I can't put my finger on why this is, but maybe it's the challenge of all that harsh atmospheric light or maybe pops of colour just seem so out-of-place in the desert that they stand out. ‘BAGDAD CAFÉ’ is presented in an awesome 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The English 5.1 DTS-HD Stereo Master Audio [French Subtitles] soundtrack is nicely clean and clear, although there's not a tremendous amount of low-end life to the film's aural presentation. From a balance stand point, everything is well mixed and appropriately natural. One highlight is the film's stunning theme, "Calling You" which is nicely reproduced here, perhaps better than anything else and will sound so awesome via your Home Cinema Amplifier. If Blu-ray viewers in North America are keen to purchase this French Blu-ray disc, then you will of course have to view it via a Multi-region Blu-ray Player, as it is locked in the Region B/2 format.
Finally, a radiant, brilliant oddball comedy-drama about the relationship that develops between a Bavarian tourist, an irritable black truck stop owner, and a weirdo artist, set in the dusty Arizona desert land of lonesome motels beloved by all who enter it. The `BAGDAD CAFÉ’ is a wish-fulfilling fable about culture-clash and the melting-pot; it's also firmly grounded in telling and cinematically original observations. Percy Adlon's method is at once intimate, quirky and affirmative: precise evocation of place, expressive colours, and a slow build-up of characters, allow him to raise the film effortlessly into realms of fantasy, shafted with magic and moments of epiphany. It also offers a renewed, endearingly quirky vision of America as the land of opportunity, not in the economic sense, but as a place with plenty of room for self-discovery and individuality. That is why it is a total honour that I have added this to my Blu-ray Collection, as I now have the ultimate Longer Version that is only available in France. Sadly you cannot get rid of the French Subtitles, but that is a small price to pay for this awesome beautiful character driven film, which I have always loved when I first viewed it in a special cinema in London and some people say they cannot watch this film too often, well I have watched this film lots of times and I never get tired of viewing this very unique special film and you can see why Percy Adlon has won some incredible awards, which says a lot about why this is such powerful and beautiful film and that is why it has now gone pride of place in my Blu-ray Collection. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
Ware, United Kingdom