Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Movie Review: Bagdad Cafe, US release date 1988

I mean she, she shows up outta nowhere without a car, without a map. She ain't got nothing but a suitcase filled with men's clothing. How come? How come she act so funny like she was gonna stay here forever? And with no clothes?! No! I don't like it! It don't make no sense at all! No, no, no, no, no! It don't make no sense! – Brenda, from Bagdad Café

Original US movie poster
Some movies feel dated as soon as they’re released. That's not true of great movies – ones that speak to the heart, to the human condition.

One of those seemingly timeless movies is Bagdad Café, directed by Percy Aldon and released in 1988. It is as poignant and in touch with human frailties and emotions today as it was 23 years ago.

This bittersweet comedy is set in an unbelievably remote café and motel in the Mojave Desert called, oddly enough, The Bagdad Café. The film opens with a German couple in the midst of an argument while driving across the desert.

The wife (Jasmin Münchgstettner) is played by noted German star Marianne Sägebrecht. The fight escalates to the point that they stop the car, in what really appears to be the absolute middle of nowhere.

She gets out of the car, and he drives off, leaving her stranded. She is left with nothing but a coffee carafe and a suitcase which ends up, as she discovers later, to be her husband’s. So she doesn't even have her own clothes.

As she walks toward civilization she happens upon the Bagdad Café, a run down truck stop operated by the tough and short tempered Brenda (CCH  Pounder).

Brenda, very suspicious of someone just walking up to her motel (among other things about Jasmine), is having problems with her own husband, who subsequently leaves her as well.

Scene from Bagdad Café, with Sägebrecht and Palance
The café and motel is home to an assortment of unusual characters, including a strange ex-Hollywood set-painter (Jack Palance), and a "tart-ish" tattoo artist (Christine Kaufmann).

Jasmin gradually wins over Brenda's trust and finally her friendship. Her ideas and abilities slowly transform the café from a backwater to a destination, and at the same time all the people in it. It is a story of friendship, trust, support, and love.

The excellent soundtrack carries you on the journey through the movie. The theme song, sung by Jevetta Steele, is as haunting and beautiful a melody as I have ever heard.

This YouTube clip plays the theme song, while featuring stills from the movie. If you ever wanted to rent an "old" movie because everything new sucks, this is the one you should pick up. A good friend of mine introduced me to this movie in 1989, and it's been a favorite ever since.

6 stars out of 5.


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