From bratwurst to the Bayou

Mixing polka and zydeco with heartwarming results

Mar 16, 2005 at 12:00 am

Alone in a tiny shack in Germany, surrounded by a forest of garden gnomes, with walls adorned in a clashing array of outdated patterns, stuck-in-a-rut polka musician Schultze (Horst Krause) settles in to face his forced early retirement.

The dreariness of it all is shattered when, by chance, portly old Schultze turns his radio dial away from a public service show about black lung disease and stumbles upon zydeco.

Zydeco, with all its steamy swamp heat, not only thaws Schultze’s depression, but helps cook up a sizzling adventure for him.

The central theme of Schultze Gets the Blues, as stated by one of Schultze’s pals, is that “you’re never too old for a revolution.” In first-time writer-director Michael Schorr’s minimalist telling, the revolution comes with much silence, occasionally interrupted by bursts of the blues, straight from a Louisiana swamp.

Schorr carefully executes the revolution, slowly, cautiously and with droll wit unfolding Schultze’s transformation from a traditional polka player to a blues hound. Schultze’s peers from his traditional German music club reject his passion for zydeco, and boo his performance of the tune he can’t shake from his accordion. He doesn’t give up, finding inspiration after chance meetings with an eccentric Francophile in a retirement home and a young flamenco-dancing waitress in a watering hole.

The infectious zydeco tune that haunts Schultze, a song that he can never fully capture, becomes a love song to America, and Krause infuses Schultze with a pioneer naïveté, like an Old World immigrant hungering for something better. So, Schultze travels to the United States, searching American backwaters for the real deal.

Schorr’s America isn’t necessarily the ideal and doesn’t immediately fulfill Schultze’s desire. Schultze’s first views of this country are as bleak and uninviting as his own mining town. It’s only as he takes more risks, opens up more and reaches out to others that his dream is realized, albeit with hardly a drop of fanfare.

Schorr’s dialogue is sparse, but shows a great, dark wit. The magnificent photography compensates for the quiet — shots are long, wide and striking. Several times the camera remains stationary as actors slowly traverse the panoramic view of the mining town, crossing the barren landscape, punctuated only by a solitary black mountain peak on the horizon.

The actors’ movements are slow, calculated. There’s little action or emotional outpouring to speak of. Nothing is rushed along or forced. Schultze Gets the Blues is a film that requires patience, but the payoff is a funny, imaginative story of rediscovery in later life.


In German with English subtitles. Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].