Percy Adlon stole a piece of my heart when I first saw Zuckerbaby (Sugarbaby). I suppose its because, like his films to follow, it is centered around quirky characters with kind hearts the only way I’d truly be happy with someone describing me. Zuckerbaby is a German (formerly West German) film that quickly became one of my favorite films and still is. I rented it from the little VHS video shop 3 blocks from my house in 1986 or 1987. It was just before the movie Baghdad Cafe came out. Another favorite Adlon film of mine. I also fell in love with his favorite leading lady at the time – who starred in both films, Marianne Sägebrecht.
Marianne is a lonely funeral home assistant who cares for the deceased. Her daily routine is captured in her lonely little apartment, dreary place of work, and even her sad supermarket that seems to further depress her. One day she is awoken from this monotonous existence by a voice. A man’s voice that carries her away on her subway commute home. Finding herself far from home she gets off the train to see before her the train’s conductor. A young handsome man who has seemingly given her a new found purpose.
Due 8 weeks vacation, 38 year old Marianne negotiates 5 weeks off from her job and sets out to seduce this 25 year old young man. Plotting to determine who he is and how to find him she undergoes a metamorphosis. She goes from a shy and reclusive lonely woman to an emboldened, fearless huntress who not only finds her prey but wins his heart.
One of the things I love most about the film is this candy colored world that Marianne lives in. The colors of her world begin to transform from oppressive to brightening and from sad to sultry. Long before the Visible Belly Outline started to trend among fat activists, there was Marianne in that pink dress circa 1985. Needless to say I love her wardrobe. Chic, sexy and yes she is braless in most of her ensembles. And those shoes above. My goodness….
I have been told by people my entire adult life how impressed they were with how comfortable I was in my body. That hasn’t always been true and although I feel comfortable in my skin, I am often affected by other people’s assumptions on my person. As we all know our feelings of self worth and self image can fluctuate on any given day. But watching this film as a teenager gifted me an image of a fat/larger women finding her joy and celebrating her sensuality and sexuality as a fact of life.
When you consider the limited imagery of people of size living their lives much less being represented as sexual beings, is it any wonder fat women especially have been so maligned and marginalized? Perhaps having seen this film gave me an advantage over many of my peers growing up. I saw this character, and believed that it was possible to be fat and desired, fat and confident, fat and content.
In the U.S. not long after the film had been released Ricki Lake starred in a made for TV remake. You may have seen it, its called BabyCakes. Unlike Sugarbaby/Zuckerbaby the leading man in BabyCakes has no intention of accepting Ricki’s invitation to dinner at her house. He shows up only because he’s too drunk to make it home and had her address in his pocket. The “American” spin is one filled with cliches and excuses for why an attractive man has to be won over to a large woman based on her personality. In Babycakes it is thought unthinkable he might desire to get to know her, or desire her period.
What is most impressive about Adlon’s screenplay for Zuckerbaby is that it never slights its subject or characters by reducing them to cliches. He merges the bittersweet realities of life with the fantastic joy in pursing ones desire. He creates a magical realism that is hard to resist and easy to believe.