Saturday, 17 April 2010

Bagdad Cafe


The unrelenting sun and constant dusty wind create an inhospitable place that appears to be detached and isolated from anywhere else. A Bavarian husband and wife – in full Alpine regalia have a falling out at a remote picnic place. She opts to walk and he drives off never to be seen again. Off trudges Jasmin, dragging her overfull suitcase behind her along the dusty and empty road. Eventually she comes across the Bagdad Cafe oil and gas station and motel.

Just prior to her arrival we are introduced to the characters at the cafe. The Cafe is run by Brenda and her laid back and easy-­going husband. They quarrel and the volatile Brenda's chiding drives the husband away – he leaves. Brenda is left with her son who only wants to practice Bach on the piano, his six month old baby who is brought up by everyone, her daughter who is more interested in men than school and the bar tender/cook. Mr Cox, an ageing Hollywood has-­been lives in a caravan at the motel and a tattoo artist runs her business from a room on the motel – but the suggestion is truckers get more than an tattoo when they visit her!

In the distance are a rail-road and a busy freeway, both presumably carrying the traffic that used to pass the Bagdad Cafe which appears to have very few customers. This is the dysfunctional and bleak situation that Jasmin walks into. The well-­to-­do and immaculate appearance of Jasmin strikes a stark contrast with the dusty, dishevelled and dysfunctional cafe and motel. Brenda is suspicious of a German woman walking out of the desert and takes an instant dislike to Jasmin. Jasmin pays for a room for the night and trudges off to the motel block to find her room. It is then that she discovers she has taken her husband's case containing his clothes and a magic set – presumably a souvenir from Las Vegas.

The following morning when Brenda is cleaning Jasmin's room, she is shocked to discover men's clothing hanging up everywhere and shaving equipment set out in the bathroom. Her suspicions heightened, she calls the local Sheriff and asks him to investigate. The Sheriff arrives and checks Jasmin's passport and return ticket and discovers that hey are in order. Over the course of the following days, Jasmin works her way into the affections of the residents and becomes accepted by everyone – except Brenda. Jasmin helps with the cleaning, child-­minding and other chores but goes too far with Brenda when she cleans and tidies the chaotic and filthy motel office while Brenda is on a trip into town. Brenda orders the rubbish to be returned and while Jasmin unpacks it, Brenda comes to her senses and accepts Jasmin's gesture.

All the while, Jasmin has been learning magic tricks and tries some on the few customers of the cafe. Discovering she is good at it, she develops her craft and combines this with waiting at table in the cafe. Truckers spread the word and soon the cafe is bursting to its seams every day.

Jasmin has worked her magic and through it transformed the community that centres its life at the cafe. The Sheriff stops by and on discovering Jasmin still there informs her that her visa has expired and that she must leave. The cafe returns to its past moribund state and one of the characters observes that “the magic is gone”.

Then one day Jasmin returns and life and energy is restored to the Bagdad Cafe and the truckers return in their droves. Brenda and her husband are reconciled and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is an odd film that you need to let wash over you. Too much critical analysis and the patchy acting, lumpy dialogue and fantasy elements of the film become too apparent. Did the schalmzy ending spoil it – yes I think so. That the power of transformation is dependent on Jasmin's presence is paramount. The musical fantasy number at the end belongs to a different era – and probably a different film.

Is it worth watching – yes it is. The film is a story about transformation and redemption – a 'Christ-­movie' in that sense. Not the strongest of the genre, but an interesting and off-­beat film.

I'll give it 6/10.

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