Whether Alessandro brought us a short or not before this feature is lost to memory, so given my lack of a time machine (and if you’ve got one, go on back and let me know) we’ll just have to move straight to the feature presentation: Bagdad Café, a 1987 film directed by Percy Adlon.
Against what would appear to be all odds, I found this one on cable, and it’s time to clear it off of my DVR, so here we go: another live-review.
In the midst of every camera angle but straight, the film opens with sunburned German couple fighting in their car in the Mojave desert. Ultimately, the wife (Jasmin) gets out of the car and the husband drives off, abandoning her. In the middle of the Mojave desert! Eventually, dragging her suitcase behind her, she shows up at the ragtag Bagdad Café, a dingy out-of-the way diner/motel/gas station run by the angry and frazzled CCH Pounder and otherwise basically only occupied by her family and a very hippie-looking Jack Palance. Jasmin takes up at the motel and Jack Palance takes a shine to her immediately.
Unfortunately, she grabbed her husband’s suitcase, so all she’s got is men’s clothes. Still, she sets them (and the shaving kit) out in the room, so when CCH goes in to clean, she gets all paranoid and xenophobic and freaks out. CCH is…not a terribly sympathetic character. When she heads out to town to get some supplies, Jasmin (out of an attempt at kindness) cleans up the motel office. Somehow, CCH is not just angry, but irate about this. We’re nearly an hour into the movie, and at this point you almost don’t even care to see CCH get redeemed.
Her son and daughter are pretty rude to Jasmin as well, and you kind of wish that she would just find a way to move on rather than take her poundings from Pounder – but then the daughter breaks the ice with Jasmin, Jasmin breaks the ice with the piano-playing son, and the movie finally starts looking up. Pack Palance begins painting a portrait of Jasmin, she starts learning magic, and CCH finally apologizes for being a bitch. “Oh, my husband left me a week ago” as if that’s an excuse (and, c’mon, we saw it – she threw him out). Well, soon Jasmin’s magic show becomes a Mojave-wide attraction and Palance begins painting her in increasing states of undress (always holding a piece of fruit, so it’s art).
Before long Jasmin’s tourist visa expires, and ironically the very sheriff who refused to do anything about her when CCH complained now forces her out of town once everybody finally likes her. But – happy ending alert – Jasmin gets her papers all in order and returns and the Bagdad Café returns to being the hippest sing-along magic show in the Mojave desert in like two or three minutes of screen time. I mean, the director really did NOT tease us with that one. It’s a full on confli-RESOLUTION! move. Of course, then the denouement carries on for like 15 minutes and includes a really awkward proposal from Jack Palance where he tries to make it sound like he’s just trying to get her a marriage visa. And then it ends. Mercifully.
I just don’t think it’s a very well-made movie. If you take just the plot shape (lonely woman is forced into a new community, has trouble being accepted but eventually wins over the locals) then I guess it’s as good as any. But the execution is just sloppy and tiresome, and stretches credulity quite a bit. It’s a low-budget film (it has one song that keeps getting repeated over and over: “I…I…I…I…I am ca…a…a…a…a…lling yo…ou!”) but that’s no excuse for a sub-par script.