Schultze Gets The Blues

on February 18, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
Exquisitely cast and gorgeously photographed, "Schultze Gets the Blues" isn't the downer its title suggests, but rather a parable of self-discovery. Left to his own devices after being forced into retirement a decade ahead of schedule, the titular German salt miner stumbles upon a strange new sound while scanning the radio dial late one night. It's snappy. It's spicy. It's Creole zydeco music of the American South. Schultze (Horst Krause) picks up his accordion and tries out the tune. The instrumentation seems incongruous, but somehow it works, and he's hooked.

But Schultze's new passion, like the jambalaya recipe he serves with German beer, is an acquired taste. Not everyone is thrilled when he quits playing polkas. What would his father say? Although the story unfolds slowly, it's the quiet determination of this zaftig bachelor, realized in small moments of gentle humor, agony and divinity, that tugs at the viewer, producing profound empathy.

It's no surprise that writer/director Michael Schorr has studied music as well as filmmaking. There's a deep sense of appreciation as Schultze traverses the musical landscape of the South, encountering a German-Czech brass band, a French fiddler and, finally, his beloved zydeco. Further, there's no musical soundtrack other than what's performed onscreen. Instead, the action takes place to the percussive accompaniment of bicycle wheels crunching on gravel, a pen filling out paperwork, the clickety-clack of chess pieces.

But, given the elegance of his debut feature, it's a wonder that photography isn't listed on Schorr's CV as well. Comprised largely of a static shots, the cinematography by Axel Schneppat, with whom Schorr has collaborated previously on a couple of documentaries, suggests a series of photographs hanging on a gallery wall, each a gorgeous composition of the industrial landscape of former East Germany, the haunting scenery of the American bayou or the kitsch of a lifelong bachelor's home. When the camera does move, which is rarely, it reveals moments of profound grace. Starring Horst Krause, Harald Warmbrunn and Karl Fred Muller. Directed and written by Michael Schorr. Produced by Jens Korner, Thomas Riedel and Oliver Niemeier. A Paramount Classics release. Drama/Comedy. German-language; subtitled. Running time: 114 min

Tags: Starring Horst Krause, Harald Warmbrunn and Karl Fred Muller. Directed and written by Michael Schorr, Produced by Jens Korner, Thomas Riedel and Oliver Niemeier, Paramount, Drama Comedy

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