There’s nothing wrong with your TV. Those over-saturated frames and shadows with unexpected hues, they’re intentional and in keeping with the surrealistic tone director Percy Adlon’s set for this film.
Bagdad Cafe is the odd story of a German couple on holiday in the US desert who part company, the wife trudging on solo in full suit with wheelie bag in tow down a dusty highway to arrive at a seemingly desolate motel. There she meets a quirky bunch who might otherwise be more at home in a circus. However, with nowhere else to go, she sets out to make the best of her new surrounds. While acceptance does not come easy despite her initial best efforts, slowly they all realize they have more in common than expected.
There are no special effects, chase scenes, sex nor excessive drama. Its a character study and a fun-house mirror perspective on acceptance, internal and external, all wrapped up in odd circumstance that even David Lynch would find amusing. Atypically feel-good in nature but its hard to pinpoint exactly why or when in the sequence of scenes the movie slides into your personal favourites list. But it will.
Acting from the cast is exceptional. Jack Palance is on point with his delivery of the eccentric, aging hippie-artist who becomes enamored of the German tourist. CCH Pounder shines as the angry inn-keeper who finally accepts herself. But the show stealer is Marianne Sagebrecht as the German tourist. She beautifully balances her character’s good-hearted but naive nature with German efficiency and pragmatism. It may be Sagebrecht’s usual acting technique to leverage negative space, that is, to let the silence speak louder than the dialogue. Whatever the case, she uses the technique to drive home her character’s emotional fumbling in a memorable performance.
One final note adding to the oddity of this film is that the soundtrack, if we can can it that, is basically one song “Calling You’, by Jevtta Steele. Its inserted at almost every turn in the story but takes on the emotional quality of the scene; sometimes fear, sometimes anxiety, love, acceptance. Its largely due to the ambiguity of the words and the ethereal tone in Steele’s voice.
If you’re looking for a quirky feel-good film with a sincere message wrapped up in surrealism and a little 80’s kitsch, Bagdad Cafe is a good watch.