“SALMONBERRIES”, Adlon’s most venturesome film to date, taking us both geographically
and emotionally into fresh territory. A remarkable companion film to BAGDAD CAFE,
it also has a remote setting and centers on a relationship between two strong, distinctive
women from different worlds; this time, however, the tone is more serious than comic.
Rosel Zech, who had the title role in Fassbinder’s memorable VERONIKA VOSS plays
an elegant, very formal East German émigré working as a librarian at an Eskimo trading
post in Northwest Alaska.
A volatile but inarticulate young Eskimo zeroes in on her with awkward, unwelcome
attentions but gradually wears the librarian down; Zech is as astonished as we are
to discover that the Eskimo is in fact a young woman (singer k.d. lang).
In the course of this seemingly unlikely friendship, Adlon raises with the utmost
sensitivity and perception questions of identity both cultural and sexual.
Percy Adlon, 1991:
I wrote this story a year ago in L.A., five months after the fall of the Berlin wall
and five months prior to Germany’s re-unification. It is about how the strength of
will and love can dismantle the walls between us, even if we are separated completely
from one another by birth, education, fate, and conventions.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, April 1994
Salmonberries Goes Off the Beaten Path
By Kevin Thomas
Bavarian-born filmmaker, Percy Adlon, has a special knack for making believable and
engaging the seemingly most unlikely friendships and romances.
In CELESTE, he explores a loving bond between the ailing Marcel Proust and his sturdy,
unsophisticated but unswervingly devoted housekeeper. In SUGARBABY, he delved into
a romance between a zaftig and confident mortuary worker and a handsome subway train
driver, and in BAGDAD CAFE he established a devoted, mutually supportive tie between
an unresourceful stranded German woman and the overworked African American proprietor
of a ramshackle motel and restaurant.
Now in the endearing, remarkably assured and stunning-looking SALMONBERRIES, a kind
of serious-yet-humor-spiked-counter-part of BAGDAD CAFE, Adlon takes on his greatest
challenge yet, letting us wonder whether a friendship forged against all odds can
turn into a romance. To tell his offbeat story -- and just as unexpectedly evoke
the need for reconciliation between the reunited Germanys -- Adlon has selected a
locale even more remote than the desert roadside compound of BAGDAD CAFE, It’s the
actual north-western Alaskan outpost of Kotzebue, a tiny community of utilitarian
tar paper houses, converted barracks and house trailers.
For 21 years it has been home to the local librarian, Roswitha (Rosel Zech), now
45, an elegant, formal East German émigré who has suddenly become the object of the
attentions of a youth inarticulate to the point of rage. Not until the youth stops
knocking books off shelves and instead abruptly disrobes does Roswitha realize that
her suitor is a woman, played by k.d. lang (whose haunting song, “Barefoot”, is heard
on the soundtrack). Abandoned in Kotzebue as a baby, she bears the name of the town
Craving friendship, love and a sense of identity, Kotzebue is so doggedly persistent
that she breaks down the severe Roswitha’s resistance to the extent that she actually
enables this remote woman to confront a tragic past that has had her in its thrall
the entire time she’s been in Alaska. Roswitha’s only joy has come in gathering salmonberries,
but her increasing reclusiveness means that her shelf-lined bedroom is now crowded
with jars of the preserved berries that she had intended to give away. With the utmost
sensitivity, Adlon raises crucial questions of cultural and sexual identity.
There are a couple of deft moments from the late Chuck Connors as Kotzebue’s seedy
foster father and a wrenching scene played almost wordlessly by German actor Wolfgang
Steinberg, but SALMONBERRIESgorgeously photographed by Tom Sigel, is by and large
a two-character story, and novice actress lang is as impressive as the veteran Zech.
After lang asked Adlon to direct a music video for her, he wrote the script of SALMONBERRIES
especially for her. Unaccountably, this prize-winning film has had to wait for more
than two years for a theatrical release.