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Review: ‘Bagdad Café’ popular the world over

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By Kelly Dolejsi

Moviegoers in France, Germany and even Seattle love “Bagdad Cafe” (1987, Rated PG). This incredible and incredibly strange film has won awards across the globe for its casting, acting, screenplay and was chosen Best Foreign Film several times over. What will Los Alamos think? That’s always an interesting question to ask.
“Bagdad Cafe,” showing Thursday at Mesa Public Library, begins with a German couple on a desolate road. They are well-dressed — over-dressed for their surrounding. They appear to be married and not happy about it. The road, the car, the rusty lean-to that serves as a urinal, everything is tilted, disoriented, uncomfortable to watch. The couple’s arguments are in German, so English-speaking viewers are even further ungrounded and upended.
And yet, sense prevails. Quite logically, the woman opens the car door, grabs her bag and walks. And once she leaves the car, the movie changes. The asphalt lies horizontal and beneath the sky. Her feet, even in her ridiculous pumps, are firmly planted.
The unusual prudence of this opening sequence prevails throughout “Bagdad Cafe,” as the German woman, Jasmin Münchgstettner (Marianne Sägebrecht), creates a new life for herself on the side of the road.
The Bagdad Café, where Jasmin chooses to make her home, features a whole cast of stranded people, including Brenda (CCH Pounder), the unhappy manager of the establishment Rudi Cox (Jack Palance), a constant present and erstwhile Hollywood set-painter and Debby (Christine Kaufmann), a quiet, onsite tattooist; as well as two teenagers, a baby, a barista and a boomerang enthusiast.
The group makes no sense, until Jasmin becomes part of it. She helps the once broken-down, filthy coffee shop without coffee into a magical paradise. And if the Bagdad Cafe can be the Promised Land, perhaps any place has that potential.
“Bagdad Cafe” screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room. Admission is free. The Free Film Series is supported by the Friends of Los Alamos County Libraries.
For more information, call the library at 662-8240.