A World of Speculation

It’s a little late for a relevant review, but I just watched the 2003 German movie Schultze Gets the Blues. If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced action-adventure thriller, it’s probably not the best time to watch it. But if you loved the slower-paced, blossoming (in the sense of layers unfolding and revealing themselves) movies, this is a good one.

I’ve told my friends that it’s The Straight Story meets Babette’s Feast.

Schultze is a German salt miner, forced into retirement and casting about for what to do with his life, who hears Louisiana zydeco music on the radio late one night. He pulls out his accordion and imitates the song, taking the simple folk melody he heard and playing it faster and faster until he’s got the tempo but not quite the feel of what he heard. He shares the sound with his friends at a local concert with mixed results.

He sells everything he has and goes on a voyage, on a quest, for the music, taking a boat through the coastal waterways, canals, and bayous from Texas to Louisiana.

SPOILER ALERT: If you want to go rent the movie and come back, I’ll wait. Take your time.

All right. Back now? Good.

So his quest takes him from German music in Texas, to Billy Jones and the Czech Boys to classic Cajun music to the zydeco he seeks. In fact, he ends up at a joint where he has an opportunity to dance to the same music he heard on the radio.

He has adventures and misunderstandings along the way — I laughed out loud when the hunters landed a duck in his boat — and the black woman at his last stop gives him water, a meal and the kindest of hospitality. We don’t see her go through the process of figuring out about the music he was looking for; we only see him dancing at the joint. And then he goes short of breath and they take him home. He goes to sleep under a bright full moon, dreaming about Cajuns dancing to music he can’t hear. And then a black cloud goes across the moon.

The next scene opens with a musical funeral procession moving through a graveyard. I had been wanting Schultze to triumph, to learn to play the music and to go home and share it with the people there. So I’m watching the procession, thinking, “Did he die? Can’t be. Maybe he’s visiting a Cajun funeral.” And the procession takes its slow cinematic time arriving, so that the viewer can consider all the possibilities.

But the musicians in the procession are the people from Schultze’s home town, and they’ve gathered with their accordions and brass instruments to give him a good sendoff — something like a Cajun funeral.

So he has triumphed, and he has, in some small way, transformed his community.

Like the painter in Tolkein’s Leaf by Niggle, Schultze has had a glimpse of the beauty of another world (in this case, a continent away), a beauty he can only barely capture and not replicate. He goes on a journey to acquire that beauty, and it’s a journey that takes his entire life to comprehend. And yet, even in his seeming failure, his all is enough.