Posts Tagged ‘Downfall’

Be Happy Something’s Happening

November 2, 2007

Schultze Gets The Blues

Schultze Gets The Blues
Directed by Michael Schorr
2003

bakinakwa says: 

One thing lakelia and I did this summer was visit family in Germany.  We declared the month before we left German Film Month and limited our viewing to films that we thought might help to prepare us for German language and culture.  Films like Downfall and Good Bye Lenin!, among many others.  Schultze Gets The Blues was a film we intended to watch during German Film Month but, for whatever reason, we didn’t get to it before trip-time.  It’s too bad too because Schultze, more than any other film we did see, paints a straightforward portrait of the German countryside and its inhabitants, circa these days.  Of course, I only know that now, having experienced it firsthand.  In that way, I suppose seeing it after our return also worked out quite nicely.

I wouldn’t be telling the full truth if I didn’t admit that I expected something more from the film.  I attribute this to the huge splash the film made on my radar in 2005 when it finally received limited release in the United States.  At the time it felt like everywhere I turned there was Schultze with a rave review or, later, on a year-end list.  My experience with Schultze is proof positive that expectations serve no purpose quite so well as spoiling an otherwise pure reaction.  That reaction with Schultze was one of delight.  The concept, the characters, the acting, the music – I’d say everything about this film is endearing, perhaps to a fault, but certainly not in any way that takes away from its appeal. Horst Krause in the lead role is the definition of one-dimensionally charming. When he hears that new sound on the radio for the first time and cocks his head, he’s laugh-out-loud funny in the least familiar way.  He is completely watchable and relatable and by the end of the film I felt more than a little attached to him, yet his demise didn’t evoke sadness in me so much as acceptance spiked with confusion, and that’s with it being completely unexpected.

Why does this film leave one wanting more? Many will point to the pacing, which I’m sure tugged/will tug at the boundaries of the attention spans of US critics and audiences, but that wasn’t a drawback for me. Nor was the relative lack of dialogue. To wit, I read the entire script in less than five minutes, but that is no matter. No, for me Schultze disappoints for the same reason it appeals: it’s quite content to tell its simple story about the last days of a quiet, charming musician. Nothing more, nothing less. Schorr directed this film armed with the knowledge that not all lives flare out or rise to dramatic, do-you-have-any-last-words heights in their final moments. Some just stop. That’s true, and Schultze never comes off as complacent in that truth, but nor does it offer much reason to ponder that truth for much longer than the first half hour after the film ends.

There is one area in which the film succeeds unconditionally though, and that is as an aural experience. Shots of landscape and sky are accompanied by crisp, clear sounds that build until finally their cause is revealed. Minimal background is used allowing the real sounds of the story to be heard.  Ordinary sounds, from breathing, eating, walking, the wind and lawnmowers, to the sound of bicycle tires on road to, of course, Schultze’s accordion are given the utmost opportunity to make their presence felt in a natural, honest way. The main reason it’s remarkable is because other films don’t sound like this; they muck it up with expensive schlock (an oxymoron, I know) and unnecessary noise. I applaud this film for having the ears to forgo all that.  To a lesser extent than it succeeds on an aural level the film also succeeds visually: the shots of Schultze cruising the swamps (or are they marshes?) are a real feast for the eyes.

I must add, nothing Schultze plays or is exposed to in Texas sounds like the blues so much as it does Zydeco, which basically defeats the purpose of the film’s double entendre title.  Indeed, the jambalaya he prepares and most of the music used in the film support the idea that the title was chosen more for its catchiness than for its accuracy.  Anyone coming to the film expecting to see Schultze sing or play the blues will be left hanging.  Other than that, Schultze Gets The Blues is a-okay in my book.

bakinakwa’s rating: 3.5 Stars

lakelia says:

I think that when people are in an unfamiliar setting, attempting to communicate in a foreign language, there’s a childlike quality about them. I’m thinking of a few recent examples – myself, for one, arriving in Munich this summer with maybe a few more words in German than Schultze had in English, some tourists who tried to get directions from the driver of a bus I was on a few weeks ago, and Schultze himself, lucking out that “zupa-markt” sounds reasonably close to “supermarket.” Between the lack of vocabulary, the inability to have or understand nuanced conversation, especially jokes, and the earnest hope for understanding, a definite vulnerability, even innocence, comes through. This foreign lostness accounts for some of Schultze’s charm in the latter portion of the movie, but the truth is he was endearing in Germany too. The sight of him sitting in the garden near his little gnome, coughing intermittently; the expression on his face when he went back for the second and third time to hear the alarming music coming out of the radio; the way he listened obediently to the televised instructions for cooking jambalaya; and his bewilderment and self-consciousness at his newfound musical passion – all made quiet Schultze lovable from the beginning.

So it happened that as the credits to Schultze Gets the Blues started rolling, I felt saddened, a little bereft, vaguely indignant. It seemed something had been tugged suddenly away from me, a small and recent treasure that I was quickly growing very fond of. Now it was disappearing without even a just farewell. No resolution. But, no particular lack of one either. Schultze ended the way it was throughout – bare, simple, and slow, with no more or less meaning than all of our everyday experiences.

Schultze was strikingly lifelike. Great emotional and psychological events took mundane forms, and no explanation followed. Generic moments of daily life got the same cinematic treatment as Schultze’s wordless, troubled turning of his father’s picture to face the wall. The ending could be said to have been foreshadowed, or not – sometimes a cough or a radio program about what happens to coal miners’ lungs indicate something about the future, and sometimes they don’t. I know I didn’t expect it. Schultze seemed utterly realistic, and yet it was also fantastical. His meandering through the marshes had the quality of a mythological journey, from the unexplained appearance of a boat to the revolving cast of characters he came upon and asked for aid. These last few days – or weeks, or however long it was – of Schultze’s story were like a dreamy tangent from his former life. Fascinated by a foreign music, hampered by familial and cultural expectations, with an unprecedented amount of time on his hands and some supportive long-time friends, Schultze drifted away to another world, struggled silently with his memories and creativity and self-consciousness, wandered, and departed.

Some might leave this slow-paced film like most of Schultze’s acquaintances walked away in the final scene – chatting, distracted, already moving on; but I felt more like Schultze’s two closest friends, who hung back, trying to let it sink in.

 

lakelia’s rating: 4 Stars