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In the West German film ''Sugarbaby,'' directed by Percy Adlon, a big, brawny mortuary worker named Marianne (Marianne Sagebrecht) develops a mad crush on a good-looking Munich subway conductor many years her junior. Mad isn't really the word for it, since Mr. Adlon's film retains a cool, stylish reserve that would not seem conducive to strong passions. However, the unexpected element here is humor, and ''Sugarbaby'' has quite a lot of dry, measured wit. Neither this drollness nor the pathos surrounding Marianne is in the least bit obscured by Mr. Adlon's predilection for understatement.
''Sugarbaby'' is hardly without flamboyance; the cinematography, by Johanna Heer, bathes the imagery in an expressive array of neon colors and relies heavily on hand-held Arriflex camera work. As arresting and bright as this visual style is, it remains very much in keeping with the film's careful, subdued tone. The cinematography serves to signal an extra dimension to the adroit, matter-of-fact performance by Miss Sagebrecht, who makes Marianne's willfullness as unmistakable as the blue, fuchsia and puce lighting that colors her bedroom.
The early part of the film follows Marianne's dogged detective work in tracing Eisi (Eisi Gulp), the slender, blond 25-year-old who becomes the object of her affections. (The title refers to the pet name she gives him, taken from song she loved in her teen-age years.) She studies transit maps and train schedules, makes up pretexts to interrogate his fellow drivers, and finally follows him to the apartment he shares with a pretty, sharp-tongued wife - who, conveniently, will soon be called away on family business.
At the same time, Marianne hauls a large mattress home, equips it with satin sheets, and buys herself stiletto heels and black lingerie. When her chance to meet Eisi finally arrives, she offers him a candy bar, having observed his fondness for such things. Once Eisi has spent a little time around Marianne, who feeds, clothes and bathes him with motherly devotion, he finds that candy bars are very much beside the point.
Although Mr. Adlon signals where the film will ultimately go half an hour before it gets there, his sustained inventiveness makes it largely unpredictable throughout, and keeps it steadily involving. ''Sugarbaby'' will be seen tonight at 9 and tomorrow at 6:15 as part of the New York Film Festival. Tracking a Romance SUGARBABY, directed by Percy Adlon; screenplay (German with English subtitles) by Mr. Adlon; photography by Johanna Heer; edited by Jean-Claude Piroue; music by Dreieier; produced by Mr. Adlon; production company, Pelemele Film GmbH; a Kino International Release. At Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, as part of the 23d New York Film Festival.
By JANET MASLIN - Published: October 1, 1985 NYTimes
Editor's Note: I saw this movie years ago on tv, long before the internet and the knowledge that there were men who were attracted to large women. It has always stuck with me and is a movie I've thought about often. It's very liberating.
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