Schultze Gets the Blues
Directed by Michael Schorr. Starring Horst Krause, Harald Warmbrunn, Karl Fred Müller, Anne V. Angelle. (2003, PG, 114 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 25, 2005
Schultze Gets the Blues is a sweet German movie by a first-time filmmaker, who, I would bet, is more than a little familiar with the early work of Jim Jarmusch or just about any Aki Kaurismäki film. The movie – half of which is a road trip – is marked by its deadpan humor, slow pace, and storyline that places a foreigner in a new world, all of which evoke Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law. We first encounter Schultze (Krause), a miner, at his retirement. Now, with work eliminated from his daily schedule, the dowdy retiree fills his days with music (he plays the accordion), fishing, and hanging out at the pub with a couple of other retirees. Writer-director Schorr films the movie in long, slow takes that accentuate the plodding nature of his life. Schultze is neither happy nor unhappy: He just exists. Then one night he hears a snatch of zydeco music on his radio, and seems intrigued by the alien sound but quickly shuts it off. The movie has very little dialogue, so thoughts and motivations can only be surmised or presumed by the viewer. His local music group is invited to send a representative to a polka festival in New Braunfels, Texas, and they decide that Schultze should attend. Once there, Schultze listens to a couple of acts and then hastens away from the conference (presumably he decides that his accordion-playing isn't up to snuff) and finds a ratty houseboat and points it toward Louisiana – land of zydeco. Schultze Gets the Blues is a charming reminder that change is possible at any age. Yet the film's sparseness has an off-putting effect on the viewer. Schultze, the character, remains more an idea or concept than a fleshed-out human being. What Schultze is missing in his life or what he wants out of it is fairly indeterminate, except for whatever notions the viewer brings to it. The film is a strong debut work (it first played in Austin at last fall's Austin Film Festival) and shows Schorr's strong ability for creating a certain mood and tone. However, a bit more amiability toward his audience might help Schorr make a more purposeful second movie.