Movies: Schultze Gets the Blues

I watched Schultze Gets the Blues last weekend.

It is a good film–though not a “hollywood blockbuster” sort of film. It’s a German independent film about a retired miner who’s also an accordian player. As he’s adjusting to retirement, he develops an interest in Zydeco music and Cajun culture, surprising his friends and the people in the small village he lives in.

It’s not slow moving, but it’s filled with pauses, shots of unmoving objects, and shots of Schultze traveling down the Mississippi in a boat. There’s no noticeable soundtrack. There are no car chases. There are plenty of scenes in which Schultze encounters things that are new and strange to him. There’s also a lot of quiet.

Thematically, the movie plays with the idea that it’s never too late to change and enjoy your life. It does a good job at that, making an interesting contrast between Schultze (an old man who’s life is changing) and a younger man who reads poetry while tediously operating a gate at a bridge or railroad crossing (I can’t remember which).

It’s the theme that dictates the ending. It’s exactly the right ending, but there are some things about it I disliked. Alas, I can’t write about them without spoiling the ending of the film.

The thing is though, they still bug me enough that I want to write about them. Thus, I’m going to do so. Those of you who might want to watch the film and are bothered by spoilers should consider yourselves warned.

Here goes:

When I took courses in creative writing, my writing profs would encourage us to spot points in the story at which things didn’t make sense. Stories are better when they don’t have glaring plot holes.

Near the end of the movie, Schultze dies. He’s in Louisiana on the Mississippi Delta. He’s visiting a women and her daughter on their houseboat. While with them, he goes to a dance. A Zydeco band there plays the song that started Schultze’s interest in Zydeco. While dancing, he slumps.

Here’s where the problem comes in: Rather than taking him to a hospital (or even referencing a visit), the woman takes him home and puts him in a chair on the top deck of her houseboat, covering him with a blanket. He is dead by morning.

Apparently this woman is the only woman in the United States who doesn’t look at an older, overweight, slumping man and think, “Heart attack!” That or Louisiana has no hospitals, something that also seems unlikely.

I’m aware that the scene of Schultze drifting into death on the deck of a houseboat fits the feel of the movie better than a trip to the hospital, lots of doctors, and machines with blinking lights would have.

Still, I can’t imagine anyone who actually lives on a river in the US leaving anyone out on the deck of a houseboat at night. Beyond the question of hospitals, there are mosquitos. They’re very unpleasant and last I heard, they live near water.

Anyway, the death seemed gratuitous to me. I couldn’t help but think that it happened just so that they could have the funeral scene in which a German brass band does it’s best to play a New Orleans style funeral (somber music on the way to the grave, joyful music as they leave it). It is the straightest, most German Zydeco you will ever hear.

It’s cool in that it allows Schultze’s life to affect his friends and village, but I’d have rather seen him come back to Germany (or choose not to) and get some hint of what comes next.

In short, I’d rather see people live with change than die just after having one.

Don’t get the impression that I disliked the movie from this. I enjoyed it and I can see what the director/writer made the choices he did. I’m just making some observations.

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