Schultze Gets The Blues takes place in a German mining town where the sky is perpetually gray and overcast, reflecting the emotional tenor of the dreary residents, who seem beaten down by the demands of harsh and unsparing lives. As the film opens, its eponymous protagonist (Horst Krause) is being put out to pasture by his employers with little but a rock-shaped light to show for his years of hard labor. A portly man of few words and even fewer ideas, Krause at first seems utterly lost, but his life unexpectedly changes when he stumbles upon a radio station playing zesty zydeco music. Intrigued, Krause begins parroting the music on his accordion, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk, who abhor anything that strays too far from the strictures of traditional polka.
A weird grandfatherly German companion to Napoleon Dynamite, this minimalist, understated comedy is populated by stocky folks who at best qualify as ordinary-looking, and at worst look like subjects for Diane Arbus' photography. With dialogue as spare as its harsh landscapes, the film is so tonally dry that it makes Aki Kaurismäki look like the Farrelly brothersit begins at a snail's pace before speeding up to a turtle's drowsy crawl. The camera remains stationary throughout, as if welded to the ground by the overbearing force of depression and inertia.
For its first hour, at least, Schultze regularly crosses the line separating deadpan from just plain deadly, but in its second hour, it attains a weird sort of left-field poetry when its setting shifts from grey Germany to rural Texas, where a revitalized Krause explores the swampland and drinks in the native music and culture. Thankfully, the change in scenery does as much for the film as it does for its roly-poly protagonist. The American South can seem intoxicatingly exotic even to many Americans, and Schultze Gets The Blues excels at illustrating how simultaneously alien and seductive Texas must seem to a man accustomed to nothing but the grim, joyless monotony of mining life. At its most poignantly lyrical, this quiet, late-blooming film about a quiet, late-blooming man shows how on the right night, with the right moon, parts of Earth can look more than a little like heaven.