Schultze Gets the Blues
English Title: Schultze Gets the Blues
Country of Origin: Germany
Studio: Filmkombinat, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF)
Director: Michael Schorr
Screenplay: Michael Schorr
Cinematographer: Axel Schneppat
Art Director: Natascha E. Tagwerk
Editor: Tina Hillman
Runtime: 110 minutes
Genre: Heimatfilm, Comedy
Schultze (Krause) has never left Teutschenthal, the small East German village that he calls home. After being forced, along with his friends Jürgen (Warmbrunn) and Manfred (Müller), into early retirement from his job at a mine, the rotund bachelor finds himself locked into a laconic daily routine, dividing his time between fishing and drinking beer, playing cards and chess, laying on the couch, visiting his mother in the nursing home and polishing his garden gnomes. A passionate accordionist and member of the local traditional polka music club, he is captivated by a tune he hears one night on the radio and becomes obsessed with Southern Zydeco and Cajun culture. He cooks spicy Jambalaya for his friends and scandalizes some of the locals by unveiling his ‘Zydeco Polka’ style at the 50th anniversary of the music club. When the club members ask him to represent them at a folk music festival in Texas he decides to go, but once there Schultze opts to tour the swamps and lakes of Louisiana by boat instead. Despite speaking next to no English, Schultze immerses himself in the music and culture of the Bayou. Happy in the company of friendly strangers, Schultze dies. Back at ‘home’ Schultze's colleagues and friends host the funeral where he is honoured with humour and respect.
Where is home? Is it where we feel the most ourselves? If so, then can we find new homes, far from where we have spent our lives, places that resonate more deeply within us than anything we have experienced before? Michael Schorr’s debut feature Schultze Gets the Blues ruminates on these questions. The film, like its lead character, is extremely quiet, sweet and slow moving. The gentle interplay of tragedy and comedy slowly generates questions about home and identity that continue to resound like a re-occurring musical phrase throughout the film.
In the first half a series of long shots of dead end images, including disused mining equipment, fences, stop signs and closed railway crossings are intercut with scenes depicting Schultze's daily life. These long shots, which could almost be still photographs, not only set the film’s languid pace but also establish that the film is as much a poignant portrait of a small, economically depressed town as it is about Schultze getting the blues. Teutschenthal appears as a town left behind. A place where movement is rare and almost nothing happens. The flat landscape, filled with industrial ruins, could hardly be further removed from the idealised Bavarian ‘home’ featured in traditional West German Heimatfilme.
The overwhelming impression is that a day in Teutschenthal is excruciatingly long. Schultze spends his afternoons alone, shuffling his way around town, perfecting the Polka on his accordion and tending to his Schreibergarten, a small private garden for the working-class. The one moment of heightened tension in the film occurs when Schultze plays his Zydeco/Polka for the local residents, to which one man reacts in a racist manner, yelling, ‘Stop with that Negro Music.’ The use of non-professional actors lends the film a strong sense of documentary authenticity. Only the lead characters are played by actors, while residents of Teutschenthal play themselves, as do the audience and performers at the annual ‘sausage festival’ in Texas.
Schorr’s deadpan comedy and detached but none-the-less observant realism lends a naivety to the characters that populate the town. They too seem to be trapped between eras, a physical manifestation of their environment. Both Schorr's observant realism and his use of documentary techniques work against the production of illusion within and throughout the film and suggest a deconstruction of the illusion or idea of home. The scenes in Louisiana are quietly beautiful and suggest that even without a shared language a stranger can get along on hat-tipping and old world charm. In this ‘other’ world Schultze finds that he is no more, or less, of a stranger than he is in his home village. The film’s ending, though sad, is gentle, honest and uncannily upbeat.
‘It’s never too late to re-tune your soul’ reads the byline for this sweet but never saccharin film. Schultze Gets the Blues suggests that even those with dull lives can be interesting characters, and that it is not necessary to change the world to find a sense of place, but rather that home is something that resides within us all.
Author of this review: Alina Hoyne