Schultze Gets the Blues

Originally published in Seattle Weekly

blues posterTorture to sit through, this German comedy consists of silent, morose scenes and tedious deadpan tableaux calculated to tickle scholars from the Jarmusch/ Kaurismäki school of hipster minimalism. Writer-director Michael Schorr means us to snicker at his hero, an obese, taciturn proletarian newly retired from the salt mines. Schultze (a trollish Horst Krause) plays traditional polkas on his accordion; he goes fishing with his fellow retirees, snappish, middle-aged men who spout insults like, “You Prussians . . . you need some Saxon personality!” A chance exposure to zydeco music on the radio shakes Schultze up a bit. Despite his conservatism, he finds the Cajun rhythms have infected his soul. Zydeco motifs creep into Schultze’s staid little polkas; musically, there’s no turning back. He eventually forsakes the fatherland for Louisiana backwaters.

Ironically, Schorr uses almost no music in the film. If you’re expecting generous dollops of bayou boogie, forget it. We only hear snippets at widely spaced intervals. Early on, when miners stand singing in a semicircle, Schorr positions the camera outside looking in through a window, as if to frame their retirement ritual under glass. Over the end credits, he simply treats us to the sound of gales blowing.

Otherwise, the cinematographer Axel Schneppat composes a few stunning shots: a denuded, strip-mined mountain reflected on a vast lake surface; a letter-boxed scrim of couples dancing on the river to the sound of cicadas’ night songs. There’s lovely footage of a frond-topped bayou, an ethereal waterscape through which Schultze, alone and serenely lost, pilots a blue tugboat. These dreamlike images make a microphone bobbing into the frame during an airport sequence almost forgivable. — NPT

March 16, 2005