German New Wave film director Percy Adlon is perhaps best known for his trilogy of films starring Marianne Sagebrecht: Sugarbaby (1985), Bagdad Café (1988), and Rosalie Goes Shopping (1989). With these vehicles, using scripts especially written for the unique talent of Sagebrecht, Adlon and his films' leading lady received acclaim from audiences around the world. Adlon's international stature continued to grow with the release of his later films, all of which exhibit his signature passion for innovative cinematography and quirky character studies. Light and color change with the emotions of the characters, adding an indefinable dimension to the unique settings, which are integral to all of the artist's work. These traits exemplify his artist's sensibility, refined by years of formal study. He first had a go at the theater after studying art, literature, and theater at Ludwigs-Maximilian-University in Munich, and then moved over to making television documentaries in his native land.
With his literary background, it is not surprising that his first film examined the life of the great writer Marcel Proust, as told from the point-of-view of the author's housekeeper. Celeste was made in 1981, and was followed by two more films on serious subjects: Füünf letzte Tage (1982) (aka Five Last Days) was based on a true story about a young girl named Sophie Scholl, who, along with her brother, was executed for her activities in the Nazi Resistance; and Die Schaukel (1983) (aka The Swing), which presented a portrait of the German aristocracy before the first World War.
Adlon's films took a turn toward the whimsical with the making of Zuckerbaby. The story of a Rubenesque mortician's assistant (Marianne Sagebrecht) starved for love and the subway conductor (Eisi Gulp) who wins her heart was a hit as a German-language film. It was released overseas as Sugarbaby, and did well in the art houses.
Two English-language films followed, also starring the luminous Sagebrecht. Bagdad Café pictured the lives of the unusual clientele at a dusty diner in the Mojave Desert. A German tourist (Sagebrecht) stops and ends up staying on, changing her own life and the lives of everyone around her. The film became a cult classic, which put the actual diner on the pilgrimage trail for film buffs. Adlon's next film, Rosalie Goes Shopping, finds Sagebrecht living in Stuttgart, AR, where the happy housewife embraces American consumerism with her personal no-limit credit card philosophy. Salmonberries (1991) is another film about Germans living in America, this time in Alaska, where salmonberries are the main groundcover in the tundra country. There, some benevolent misfits have gathered in a community based on building the pipeline. Adlon's atmospheric film techniques and memorable characterizations by k.d. lang, Rosel Zech, and Chuck Connors make this movie one of the director's best.
Adlon worked in production on the darkly humorous Younger and Younger (1993) and Eat Your Heart Out (1997), and as a screenwriter on American Rickshaw (1992). He returned to directing in the German language with the 2000 movie Hawaiian Gardens. The film's subtitle, which refers to canine bodily functions, may best sum up the story line and philosophy of a director who has spent his career celebrating beauty in life's broken down places.