Bagdad Café is a slice-of-life drama that’s very weird. Early on, Jasmin Münchgstettner (Marianne Sägebrecht, below) seemingly splits from her husband after an argument, and with nothing better to do, she beds down at motel that’s part of the nearby, titular cafe until she can figure out her next move.
While there, she encounters owner Brenda (Avatar and E.R.‘s CCH Pounder, above) who hates her… but then again, Brenda hates everyone, whether they’re an employee, a guest, or just one of the drifters that frequent her establishment, such as aged hippie Rudi Cox (Jack Palance).
There’s some bizarre camerawork in this, such as when Jasmin’s husband throws something at her in the first scene: a take was done from both angles and they’re spliced together, quickly cutting from one to another and back again. Soon after, as a truck stops next to Jasmin and sets off again, frames are intentionally left out to give an effect to make it look like it’s going slower than it is. I’m not sure if is meant to show how time perception is different for her.
Or maybe the director did it just so that 30 years later, some people reviewing the film would overthink it…
A drama mixed with some comedy, this cafe, which serves questionable coffee, just drifts like those who pass by, and doesn’t really seem to have an end goal in mind. That said, it’s interesting to see the impact that Jasmin and Brenda have upon each other’s lives at the cafe, and that this can only happen when you effectively put real life on hold to dick about at a roadside cafe. It’s not sustainable in reality, but that puts it in the realms of fantasy, which is what the movies are all about, so overall, it’s a mix of good and bad.
in quite a change for her character, which I was not expecting.
Most of the film is punctuated by the glorious song Calling You, performed by Jevetta Steele, which was later covered in 1990 by Paul Young for his superb covers album, Other Voices. Wikipedia shows the song has been covered by scores of others, too, but, on this first time, it’s nice to hear the original. Further down in this review, I’ll include both versions and you can let me know which you think is best.
What I also enjoyed is that, lot of the time, particularly in the mid-evening scenes, it’s equisitely shot, as the light begins to fade.
Overall, Bagdad Café is a film that feels a bit less than the sum of its parts, but then again, it has a lot of charm which does rather make it a must-see.
The subtitles aren’t always perfect. “He’s got a mind like a sieve” becomes “He’s got a mind like a worm”.
Hilariously, the film is now rated a 12-certificate, and there’s a line I can’t make out from CCH Pounder where she calls Sal “a goddamn (something that could resemble ‘good for nothing’)”, but the subtitles say, “a goddamn mother fucker”, which would at least require a 15-certificate!
The film is presented in the theatrical 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio – even though IMDB states 1.85:1 (although that’s how it would most likely be presented in a conventional cinema) and in 1080p high definition. There’s a little bit of what looks like slight grain occasionally, but that’s down to the source material, and there’s nothing at fault down to the remastering, so that’s why I’m giving it a 10 with that slight advisory.
The sound is in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and for what’s mostly a dialogue piece with occasional music, it does it’s job just fine.
The extras are as follows:
- The Trip to Bagdad (24:20): Screenwriters Eleonore Adlon and Percy Adlon revisit the original set with granddaughters Gideon, Odessa and Roxanne… Gideon is a girl’s name?! Someone tell former Chancellor Osborne!
They also take in the cafe that’s there, now, and how they actually have the piano used in the film!
- Bagdad Cafe: The Story (20:34): A rather odd extra which tells the entire story in stills with narration from Percy Aldon… as if you’re only going to watch this and NOT the film? I don’t get it.
- Trailer (1:56): Presented in the original 1.66:1 widescreen ratio, but dubbed into German, and it’s there that the film is known as Out Of Rosenheim, for reasons that will become clear as you watch it.
- Audio commentary: from Percy Adlon and Marianne Sägebrecht.
The menu features fairground-style music which is used in the film, subtitles are in English and German, and there’s the bog-standard 12 chapters, although I go by the rule of thumb of one every five minutes.
Running time: 108 minutes
Released: August 13th 2018
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Languages: English, German
Subtitles: English, German
Widescreen: 1.66:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Percy Adlon
Producers: Eleonore Adlon and Percy Adlon
Screenplay: Eleonore Adlon, Percy Adlon and Christopher Doherty
Music: Bob Telson
Jasmin Münchgstettner: Marianne Sägebrecht
Brenda: CCH Pounder
Rudi Cox: Jack Palance
Debby: Christine Kaufmann
Phyllis: Monica Calhoun
Salomo: Darron Flagg
Cahuenga: George Aguilar
Sal: G Smokey Campbell
Münchgstettner: Hans Stadlbauer
Eric: Alan S Craig
Sheriff Arnie: Apesanahkwat
Trucker Ron: Ronald Lee Jarvis
Trucker Mark: Mark Daneri
Trucker Ray: Ray Young
Trucker Gary: Gary Lee Davis
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.