- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

“Schultze Gets the Blues,” a first feature by German filmmaker Michael Schorr, begins with considerable humorous promise, but it lacks the variety needed to sustain a whimsical, picaresque format.

The title character is a stoutly built, taciturn mineworker (Horst Krause), known only by his last name, pronounced “Schultz-uh” rather than “Schultz-ie.” He is introduced as he takes early retirement with a pair of friends, Juergen (Harald Warmbrunn) and Manfred (Karl Fred Mueller), whose pastimes include mutual disparagement on the grounds that one is incorrigibly Prussian and the other incorrigibly Saxon — distinctions that may be lost on outsiders.

Schultze isn’t quite sure what to do with the time on his hands after leaving the salt mine, whose slag heap is the loftiest topographical feature near their hometown. He visits his mother in a nursing home. He hangs out with Juergen and Manfred at a local tavern or on biking and fishing excursions. The bachelor of the trio and easily the least talkative, he seems to provide them with a loyal audience when they try to mock each other. In some respects he resembles a big, good-natured mutt.

Mr. Schorr sneaks up on us with the revelation that there’s a musical side to Schultze. He’s an amateur accordion player, associated with a local polka band. When he first reaches for the instrument, Schultze is animated by an unexpected source of inspiration: the sound of a zydeco band heard on a radio station. Schultze demonstrates a good ear by reproducing their tune by memory on his instrument. Then he begins playing it compulsively.

The influence deepens when a new waitress at the tavern gives him a book about Cajun folk music. He cooks up a jambalaya feast for Juergen and Manfred. It turns out that there’s an American sister city of their own hometown: New Braunfels, Texas, the site of an annual folk music festival. Friends and well-wishers reason that this is a heaven-sent destination for Schultze in his zydeco rapture. He’s urged to represent the town by flying to bayou country as an accordion-playing goodwill ambassador.

So far, so good. Mr. Schorr uncorks a globetrotting, culture-bridging notion that seems unique and beguiling. Mr. Schorr also demonstrates a partiality for deadpan, slow-burning sight gags within expansive scenic frameworks. His timing tends to modulate from slow to slower.

The most effective scene-setter in the early going illustrates a daily ritual in which Schultze, Juergen and Manfred halt their bikes at a railway crossing in order to outwait a despotic attendant in the watchtower; he raises the gates to suit his whims rather than the approach of trains.

Mr. Schorr’s aptitude for humor is evident, but he doesn’t always nail a delayed-action laugh, and you start to wonder how his style will adapt to an American setting.

Not as well as one hopes, as it turns out. The movie you want and need to see is not the one Mr. Schorr has in mind.

Instead of being immersed in Cajun music and conviviality once he sets foot in Texas and Louisiana, Schultze remains a hulking outsider and wallflower.

Performing opportunities never materialize. That’s a big miscalculation. You’re hoping that Schultze can be invited to sit in or just hang out often enough to add a few more tunes to his zydeco repertoire. Instead, the movie elects to tag along with a Skipper Schultze, piloting a rented boat around the bayous on his lonesome. As a result, the concluding reels become scenic in a self-defeating way that precludes ample character interaction or musical highlights.

Nevertheless, the basic idea may persuade many spectators to make allowances. It’s not every day that affinities are conjured up between bayou country and a mining town in eastern Germany.

**

TITLE: “Schultze Gets the Blues”

RATING: PG (adult subject matter but no objectionable depiction; fleeting profanity and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Michael Schorr. Cinematography by Axel Schneppat. Production design by Natascha E. Tagwerk. Costume design by Constanze Hagedorn. Music by Thomas Wittenbecher. In German with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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