"Schultze Gets the Blues" (2004, dir. Michael Schorr) is the story of a retired salt miner, played by Horst Krause that finds a new passion in visiting the culture of the American South after a late-night encounter with Zydeco music on the radio.
Schorr's presentation of the German countryside and the Louisiana Bayou are reminiscent of the slow still lifes of directors like Hayao Miyazaki. They give a feeling of not only the lifestyle in the area, but the speed at which the world moves. Schultze's retirement in the countryside is accompanied by slow cuts of rolling hills and neighborhoods devoid of signs of life while his adventures in Louisiana focus on nature, but also present the seaside industry of the American South and the lively gathering holes and musical stylings of the region.
Krause's relatively silent portrayal of Schultze allows for the audience to assume most of his point of view with little conflict. Saying little more than "Schultze" as an introduction while doffing his hat, we rarely hear him speak. This does not mean we have no idea what Schultze is speaking or thinking. Krause's expressive face gives the audience a window into Schultze's feelings and reactions to others. Some of the best moments in the film come from Schultze's reaction to hearing about lung cancer risks for miners on the radio and the unrestricted joy and passion he experiences when playing Zydeco on his accordion. Krause's expertise at physical comedy is shown best through his interactions with a radio cooking program as it omnisciently admonishes him for ignoring instructions and agreeing with him when he cracks open a beer.
Schorr populates Schultze's world with an interesting cast of supporting characters, including the bickering friends, Jürgen (Harald Warmbrunn) and Manfred (Karl-Fred Müller), Frau Lorant (Rosemarie Deibel), and the various people he meets in Louisiana. Jürgen and Manfred were forced into retirement at the same time as Schultze and spend their time split between their wives, and arguing with each other while fishing, playing chess, and drinking with Schultze.
The start of Schultze's new life begins with the Gatekeeper (Wolfgang Boos), a lazy worker that quotes literature while raising the safety bars at a train crossing that block Schultze, Jürgen, and Manfred on their daily bike rides. None of his quotes are directly identifiable, perhaps because the translator that worked on the film did not translate the quotes into their well-known english equivalents. Even unidentified, his quotes have meaning in the movie.
Were alchemy raised to almost the level of regular science and nature forced through experiment to reveal her secrets... Ah, are you happy now? Lushes. (quotes from book) "Must my designs bow to the iron yoke of mechanics? Should my soaring spirit chain itself to the snail's pace of matter?"
It's important to note that Schultze and company cannot hear the Gatekeeper in his tower. His monologue is purely for his own entertainment, yet still informs us about Schultze's life. Much as the book asks if its fate is tied to the ideas of others, Schultze must decide if he should fade into retirement as is expected of him, or embrace his love for a new culture. By this point in the movie, we've seen the slow pace at which Schultze moves through his retirement, cleaning his garden gnomes, playing his accordion, and napping through the day.
Later on, Schultze rides by the salt mine on his bike and looks wistfully through the front gate before returning home. He arrives at the train crossing alone when the Gatekeeper observes from his tower:
Where are your friends, then? I won't be like that. I'll fall on this so fragile life. Till the furies close at last desperation! Triumph, Triumph! The plan is complete. Farewell.
It's at this point that Schultze's life changes. He meets Frau Lorant, whom invites him to drink whiskey and teaches him how to savor it. At this point, Schorr has the blade of a windmill cross down across the screen, mimicking the motion of the crossing gate. This shot marks the beginning of Schultze finding new passion in his life through the cultures of French-Creole Zydeco music.
"Schultze gets the Blues" is an ironic title for a tale that tells of a man finding happiness and excitement in a period of life that can be lonely and sad. Though we see the end of Schultze's life at the conclusion of the film, we see that his passing had a positive influence on those around him.