Marianne Sägebrecht played a pioneering role in establishing the Rubenesque woman as a leading lady. In physical build so unlike the stereotypical Hollywood starlet, Sägebrecht's luminescent beauty shone through the persona of the full-figured star, in movies such as Sugarbaby (1985) and Bagdad Cafe (1987). These two Percy Adlon films popularized the German-born actress with American audiences, and launched her Hollywood career.
Sägebrecht's stage and film appearances began long before Hollywood. Born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1947, Sägebrecht was well known on Germany's alternative theater circuit as an actress and singer. In German film, she worked on both sides of the camera, as a producer and actress. It was during this time that she began a collaboration with Adlon, who wrote parts specifically tailored to the mystique of Sägebrecht, whose 30-something overweight characters are a mix of funny and seductive.
In the offbeat film Sugarbaby, the actress plays a mortician's assistant who is infatuated with a subway conductor, played by Eisi Gulp. That performance won accolades, and was followed by Bagdad Cafe. The quirky cast of characters, which included an aging Jack Palance, brought love, laughter, and humanity to a run-down diner in the Mojave Desert. The vulnerable sincerity of Sägebrecht's character won over the cynical proprietress of the Baghdad Cafe and the viewing public as well. So great was the film's appeal that the actual diner in the desert became a mecca for movie buffs offering homage to the cult classic.
Sägebrecht starred in one more Percy Adlon film the following year. The hilarious Rosalie Goes Shopping (1989) finds Sägebrecht in Stuttgart, AR, where she is a German transplant with a shopping jones and a credit card.
Meanwhile, Sägebrecht appeared in a series of black comedies, including Paul Mazursky's political satire Moon Over Parador (1989), and the Hollywood production of the darkly humorous War of the Roses (1989), directed by Danny De Vito. She also appeared in Martha and Me (1990), Jiri Weiss' bittersweet story about a Jewish family in Czechoslovakia during the days of the Holocaust. Playing the title role in the last-mentioned film won Sägebrecht the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival.
Sägebrecht continued her work in art films in a number of international vehicles, such as the British horror flick Dust Devil (1993), directed by Richard Stanley; Daphna Kastner's Spanish Fly (1998); and the acclaimed Jeroen Krabbé film Left Luggage, made in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States. In 1999, Claude Zidi's visionary film Astérix et Obélix Contra César, the story of comic book heroes brought to life, featured the versatile actress. Sägebrecht brought her thoughtful characterizations and universal appeal to each role of her career. The actress remained a compelling figure in film at the close of the 20th century, while also working in the medium of television in her native Germany.