LOS ANGELES TIMES, September 2, 1991

‘Salmonberries’ To end UCLA’s Percy Adlon Series

“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.

wp8a972765.jpg 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.wp365b0344.jpg


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 itself.

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 SALMONBERRIES gorgeously 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.