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The American Astronaut

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Schultze Gets the Blues is a tender piece of cross culturalism. It’s an experimental knockwurst gumbo that is tasty for our protagonist, even if nobody else quite gets it.

Dark German Wry

Cajun life gives Schultze a reason to live
Cajun life gives Schultze a reason to live

If we ever learn Schultze’s (Horst Krause) first name, nobody uses it. He’s just Schultze. He’s a rotund German, older, with thinning buzz-cut silver hair. He wears thick wire-frame spectacles, checked shirts, soft jeans, and suspenders. He lives alone, and he hardly ever speaks. Even when he drinks with his two buddies, they do most of the talking. One gets the feeling the last twenty years of Schultze’s life have been lived out of habit rather than passion.

Writer/director Michael Schorr plays up the loneliness and awkwardness of Schultze’s life with static cinematography. Square shots of the German countryside and village establish both the setting and the cinematic style. Most scenes are presented in one take, with no editing. The effect is wry and quirky. It’s the same sort of visual humor you might seen in The Man without a Past, Stranger than Paradise, or even Napoleon Dynamite.

Schorr isn’t quite as good at this laissez-faire comedy as his cinematic brothers. He allows a little too much deliberate humor to creep into the frame. The college kid who operates the train crossing, unnecessarily, quotes a contemporary of Goethe. When there’s a visual joke, Schultze will do a double take to draw attention to it. It’s much funnier to see quirky behavior and infer the logic behind it than to have that logic spelled out for you.

Nevertheless, Schorr is firmly in control, and he’s usually steering us right. There is one (and possibly only one) dolly shot in the entire film. The fact that an hour of film had passed with only tripod shots makes this simple effect leap off the screen, just when Schulze finally reaches his first big moment.

Et Toi!

The angle that sells this movie and that is oversold in the trailer is Schultze’s experiment with all things cajun. Schultze was laid off early in the film and now he’s looking for a new reason to live. So far all he can come up with is polishing his garden gnomes. Late one night he hears a zydeco tune on the radio and he can’t get it out of his head.

He pulls out his accordion — until now used only to play traditional polkas — and practices until the rhythm and melody become second nature. He finds a cooking show that teaches him how to make gumbo. At the local folk festival where he usually plays his father’s polka, he opts instead for his new cajun melody. With the help of his friends, Schultze sets off for America. First he heads to his town’ s sister city in Texas, and then by boat into the heart of Louisiana.

Ich Bin Ein American

In America, Schultze remains a shy, polite man. I kept waiting for him to open up and fully embrace Louisiana, dancing and playing music with the best of them. If there were to be an American remake, we probably would see Schultze let loose, dancing with abandon and jamming with the most famous zydeco band the producers could afford.

But that’s probably not in keeping with his character. Instead the film, like its protagonist, remains interested and attentive to this strange American subculture, but never exuberant. A bolder attitude is almost promised in the movie’s trailer, and it might have worked better than this subdued film. Nevertheless, Schultze Gets the Blues has a lot of charm, culture, and dry humor that make it worth a look.