From West Germany, Percy Adlon’s Zuckerbaby is a comedy-drama highlighted by its humanity, the lead performance by Marianne Sägebrecht, and perhaps the most dazzlingly original color cinematography, by Johanna Heer, in existence. In Marianne’s bedroom at night, diffuse light falls on different elements of the mise-en-scène, each element attracting a different color. A ray of blue light translates as green when it falls upon Marianne’s unoccupied pillow, but it is purplish when mixed with sleeping Marianne’s own complexion. The whole film is a symphony of lit colors functioning as emotional description and visual irony. Few films more appealingly convey the sense of alienation experienced by a solitary soul in an artificial urban environment.
In her late thirties, Marianne finds herself anonymous in Munich, lonely and unattached. Her job as a mortuary attendant, moreover, hardly provides a lift. One thing does: the handsome young subway conductor who catches her eye and her heart. Marianne sets about to make him a part of her life. Although married, Huber becomes the light of her life—a flickering light, given that they must steal their moments together. Eventually, Huber’s territorial wife, a cold-blooded bitch, intervenes and brutally reclaims her Huber as though he were so much property, aiming to extinguish hope in Marianne’s life. At the last, however, Marianne is in her usual spot on the subway platform, waiting, waiting.
Numerous commentators have noted that Marianne is “overweight.” This is nonsense; it drags in a prejudice that has nothing whatsoever to do with the film. Marianne is what she is. The size of her waistline is of no consequence. By contrast, the smug Hollywood remake, Babycakes (Paul Schneider, 1989), makes it all about the protagonist’s weight, reducing Adlon’s social canvas to a personal-problem melodrama. Someone’s diet won’t cure society’s ills.
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