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Friday, March 18, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Schultze" is German by birth, Cajun by the grace of God

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars


"Schultze Gets the Blues," with Horst Krause, Harald Warmbrunn, Karl-Fred Mller. Written and directed by Michael Schorr. 114 minutes. Rated PG for some mature humor, mild language. In German and English with English subtitles. Metro.

Like one of the cherubic garden gnomes that seem ubiquitous in his quiet little world, Schultze has an enormous potbelly, a disarming smile and the gentle demeanor of a guy who wouldn't harm a fly. He's funny and funny-looking, like a caricature of a rosy-cheeked brewmaster in the midst of Oktoberfest. If it weren't for his workman's wardrobe, lederhosen could be his chosen uniform.

He's also one of the most original and delightful movie characters to come down the pike in many a moon. In German writer-director Michael Schorr's promising debut, "Schultze Gets the Blues," this roly-poly East German salt miner is played to perfection by Horst Krause. Just as Bruno S. was utterly inseparable from his role in Werner Herzog's "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" and "Stroszek," Krause inhabits "Schultze" so effortlessly that you wonder if he's acting at all.

The "Stroszek" comparison also fits with Schorr's delicate, unobtrusive direction, which deftly combines fiction and documentarylike realism, recalling similar qualities in Herzog's film in the way its central character moves from his insular German existence into the exotic landscape of a warped American dream. Watching "Schultze Gets the Blues," you sense the same creative vitality that fueled the New German Cinema of the mid-to-late-'70s.

In Schorr's case, however, that vitality is applied to a world of beguiling humor and late-blooming discovery. Unlike Stroszek, who found misery and disillusionment in a Wisconsin wasteland, Schultze is warmly willkommen in Texas and Louisiana, where his newfound passion for zydeco music is jubilantly indulged.

How Schultze gets the blues is the movie's pivotal epiphany. Laid off 10 years too early from his salt-mine job, this simple man of simple pleasures is listening to the radio when he catches a snippet of zydeco accordion, like some rapturous beacon from the bayou. Until that moment, Schultze's own accordion prowess has been solely devoted to polka. Ah, but now he simply must visit the source of this lively, infectious swamp music!

Let's just leave it at that; the pleasures of "Schultze Gets the Blues" should be experienced, not described. Like Jack Nicholson's wayward insurance man in "About Schmidt," Schultze is on a wryly comedic mission of enlightenment.

Schorr's award-winning film may be a bit on the slight side to some tastes, but it's a journey well worth taking.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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