Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Michael Schorr's Schultze Gets the Blues is a deceptively droll little comedy-drama in a relaxed and observant style. It's a bit like David Lynch's The Straight Story except irony-free and with next to no dialogue. A meditation on the modest ambitions of a modest life, it's a tale of an ordinary old man touched by the spark of something novel and interesting. Newly energized, he journeys just to see where his new adventure will take him. Viewers capable of appreciating a slow pace will find a rewarding film about a uniquely lovable character, Horst Krause's Schultze.
Rural Germany. The modest and unassuming Schultze (Horst Krause) makes the best of idleness when forced retirement converts both him and his two best friends Jü:rgen and Manfred (Harald Warmbrunn & Karl-Fred Múller) into pensioners. As the yearly music festival draws near Schultze weathers the usual criticism of his poor accordion skills. But then he hears some Louisianan zydeco music on the radio, switches from his polka tunes to the new sound, and becomes enthralled with Cajun culture. Although none of his peers like his strange new music, Schultze wins the town prize, a trip to a German music festival in Texas. Realizing that he's not in the same league as the professional players on stage, Schultze declines to perform and instead sets out on a back-bayou boat trip into an unknown world.
Schultze Gets the Blues is deceptively simple in form. Moving the camera only two or three times, director Schorr's German section is a series of carefully chosen static shots that underscore Schultze's unchanging, vaguely irrelevant lifestyle. Schultze's friends are too hotheaded about chess to play a civil game, and the biggest issue at stake is yelling for the neighbor to shut off his loud lawn mower. Most of the community's young men seem to have gone to the city, and Schultze's only relative is his mother in a rest home. Schultze proudly washes his lawn trolls, but a TV news story shows hundreds of the old-fashioned decorations being disposed of in a pit.
Schultze is played by a popular German television actor in an interesting style. Fat and quiet, he seems to have little personality until he accidentally tunes his radio to a zydeco-themed station. His eyes light up and he immediately reaches for his accordion. Schultze's zydeco playing may not be the greatest, but it's obvious that he derives immense personal pleasure from it. He perks up, inviting his pals over for a jambalaya dinner at his little shack of a house, and commits to odd jobs to earn the money to fly to America. Although nobody likes his playing -- the locals prefer "oom-pah-pah" bands and straight polkas to Schultze's "schwartze musik" -- Schultze's friends support him without reservation.
When Schultze goes to America he becomes a curious, hesitant Jacques Tati- like stranger in a new land, trying to communicate with his ten or so English words. The German music festival is more German than Germany, and when the puzzled Schultze hears the sophisticated talent he's meant to play with, he packs his accordion and moves on.
Schultze's strange solo journey on a tiny flat boat makes us a little concerned, as he's both elderly and very overweight. He decorates the boat with his little plastic troll; the boat visibly tips when he stands to either side of center. Helpful Americans give him directions, help him find gasoline and even pull his boat out of a mangrove tangle, but we don't see him making any meaningful personal connections. It's as if the man from Europe is on a journey to find his soul. Invited to dance with the elderly couples at a Cajun country night spot, Schultze leaves when he misinterprets a lady's actions, not realizing that she's just leaving to get him a drink. Schultze finally comes across Aretha (Anne V. Angelle) and her daughter on a houseboat. They invite him to a feast, and the grateful German is all smiles.
Schultze Gets the Blues casts its spell slowly and many scenes are deliberately paced. Ordinary details of daily life take on a humorous aspect, as when we react to the sight of Schultze chomping into a raw onion as part of his meal. He's a sweetheart, a man with friends but emotionally isolated. The best thing about the show is the personal fulfillment Schultze derives from playing his zydeco music. In a typical feel-good movie, Act III would see Schultze becoming a big star and receiving attention and accolades; Schultze Gets the Blues instead opts for a more soulful conclusion. The movie won a basket of honors at European festivals.
Paramount's DVD of Schultze Gets the Blues has a perfect enhanced transfer and excellent sound. The dialogue is split between subtitled German and English with a smattering of Cajun at the end. After the static beginning in Germany the overcast, always-moving camera in the Louisiana bayous is both stimulating and ominous: We know we're on some kind of final journey.
Director Michael Schorr provides an amusing commentary, also subtitled in English. He speaks with much affection for the non-professional locals that helped him in both countries, offering amusing details along the way. The seemingly senile old ladies in the German retirement home were actually quite lively, and were pleased to have the young men of Schorr's camera crew paying so much attention to them! Schorr twice refers the viewers to a making-of featurette, which sadly does not appear on this Region 1 release.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Schultze Gets the Blues rates:
Supplements: Audio Commentary (in German with English subtitles) by Writer/Director Michael Schorr
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 1, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson