Monday, March 14, 2011

Bagdad Café (Out of Rosenheim)

You probably know the music, but you may not necessarily know where it is from. Bagdad Café is one of these little treasures, known without being known. Released in 1987 and directed by Percy Adlon, it stars Marianne Sägebrecht, CCH Pounder (that we saw briefly in  Face/Off) and Jack Palance.

A German couple is arguing in the middle of the Mojave desert – at some point the wife, Jasmin, takes off on the deserted road and eventually arrives at the Bagdad Café, a run-down motel and diner where she meets Brenda, the owner, whose husband has just left her. With nowhere to go, Jasmin uses her love of cleaning and her love for magic to change the lives of the people around her.

During the first ten minutes I got worried those 97 minutes of film would be long and painful. There is not really a scenario here, Marianne Sägebrecht makes the movie. Somehow the viewer grows fond of all the characters and what seems at the beginning to be a grim story turns into a colorful, happy musical. Jasmin is the glue bringing and holding everyone together. At first, she is lonely and shy, Brenda is suspicious and, as each character opens up and learns how to tame the others, affection grows. Because this is primarily a story of friendship.

The evolution can be seen when Rudy starts painting Jasmin. As the number of paintings grows, Jasmin is more and more flirtatious and reveals more of her body. This is not a movie about sex, violence, or suspense. Because of that, it makes those scenes more sensual.

It was argued to me that many questions are left unanswered: why did she leave her husband, what happens to the husband, why and how does she come back, why does Jasmin go there and not to a bigger city. Well, I cannot answer these questions, however I would say this movie is like a fairy tale and, to be frank, I do not think we need to know about this information!, which may be irrelevant to the story. Like in a fairy tale, Jasmin is a bit like the fairy Godmother to me. This is about magic – it starts with basic tricks, but the really magic is about opening up to people, bringing people together, and transforming the Bagdad Café from a ditch to a “must” destination! One of the residents of the area, Debby, in charge of a tattoo parlour, end up leaving because of that:

Brenda: Now why would you want to leave?

Debby: Too much harmony.

We see Brenda’s ex throughout the movie, observing her from far away and muttering “oh no, Brenda”, every time she overreacts to something. As Brenda opens up to her new friend Jasmin, she finally starts doing things right, and opening up to the rest of the world as well – the ex ends up in the Café towards the end, and seems disappointed it has become such a success. My theory is that he was hoping Brenda would admit she needed him, and ask him to come back. I loved Rudy Cox, an old hippie who is taken by Jasmin’s charm and falls for her. Funny thing is, she is not even pretty! At the beginning she is the exact opposite of attractive, I though she looked like French actress Catherine Jacob and, as she evolves, no matter her physical attributes, or absence of, she is incredibly beautiful.

The whole movie revolves around this one place in the middle of the desert, and is filmed in sometimes strange ways, with a dominant of yellow and red. Again, this is one the interrogations we had. I am not sure what to say about it, one of my theories it that it vehiculates the heat and dryness of the desert, and, at the beginning anyway, creates a heavy atmosphere.

I saw and heard some comments relating to the boomerang, and this symbolizing being able to give and being able to receive. That might be a bit too subtle for me, but I like the idea.

Ok, some pieces are missing, ok it is a bit strange. The story does not make the movie, Jasmin makes the story, and hence the movie. It is one of those films where it is difficult to say exactly why we loved it. Or hated it, for that matter!  It has a "je ne sais quoi" element that makes it incredible. And if you have the courage to go past the first 10 minutes you will be able to enjoy an exceptional moment, carried by a beautiful, haunting music and an incredible cast. It went straight to the top of my favorite movies, and I will watch it again with pleasure.

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