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Schultze Gets The Blues
Stars: Horst Krause, Harold Warmbrunn, Karl-Fred Mueller, Wilhelmine Horschig, Rosemarie Deibel and Anne V. Angelle
Director/Scriptwriter: Michael Schorr
Music: Thomas Wittenbecher
Running Time: two hours
(German language with subtitles, some English spoken)
Note: Best Picture/Best Screenplay at Stockholm Film Festival and Special Director’s Award at Venice Film Festival
Salt is one of the spices that make life enjoyable. Working in a salt mine is another thing. In this film, writer/director Michael Schorr examines the life of Germany’s Schultze, a newly retired man who has a love of music, plays the accordion and has nothing else to do. His wife is in a retirement home and Schultze finds that the spice from his life is gone.
The film begins with Schultze (Horst Krause) retiring with two friends, Jurgen (Harold Warmbrunn) and Manfred (Karl-Fred Mueller), who bicker constantly. Schultze’s wife is in a retirement home, so he lives alone in a neat little house with nothing to do but cook a meal and play the accordion. When he is invited out with friends, Schultze seems the fifth wheel. One day, he catches a zydeco tune on German radio. The bouncy accordion music catches his fancy and he improvises his own song with it. The town has an annual music contest and Schultze is expected to play traditional polka music as his entry, except he surprises everyone with zydeco. It goes over like a lead balloon. Eventually, the contest promoters change their minds and send Schultze to their sister city’s annual music contest. It happens to be in Texas and Schultze enters a new world of bayous, Cajun music and Cajun food, Southern hospitality and best of all, a chance to play his accordion. The cinematography by Axel Schneppat is beautiful.
What will amuse the audience, who understand the German language, is that the subtitles don’t always match with what is spoken. It’s been sanitized a bit, but still within a PG rating. The film is overly long with stretches of Schultze riding his bicycle in Germany, or colorful sky views of the horizon. This is a quietly amusing film, beginning with a traditional retirement gift for working in the salt mines. It’s a lump of salt with an electric bulb inside to form a lamp, but instead, resembles a piece of slag, Schultze trying a jambalaya recipe and feeding it to his friends or Schultze’s first encounter with an American hot tub.
Horst Krause as Schultze is not one’s idea of a “leading man.” Here is middle age, not with a svelte figure, and a bit of shyness tossed in. His friends, Jurgen and Manfred, lead the way in conversation and arguing, with Schultze as peacemaker. Women in this film are sympathetic and friendly to this shy man who visits his wife regularly, though she does not recognize him, and keeps a clean house with flower beds and a garden. In America, it is the same. Schultze just looks naturally shy, but friendly. Also, in America, Schultze discovers bayou country with endless waterways, friendly policemen and a German culture he didn’t know existed here.
This is a poignant film in that we feel Schultze’s loneliness. What is the use of having an instrument to play with no one to play for? When is the time to break free of tradition and try something new? Even though there is a language barrier, good manners will take you far, and Schultze has good manners. America is indeed a land of freedom, especially for accordion players. The salt mines were never like this.
Copyright 2005 Marie Asner