Director: Michael Schorr
This great little film was recommended to me by fellow Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow contributor Bob Turnbull, whose own film blog, Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind, can be found here. It tells the simple story of a plump, gentle-natured man named Schultze who, after retiring from his job as a miner in his small German town, gradually takes up the fast-paced Zydeco style of music (originating from the American south) on his accordion, leading him on a journey far from home.
The movie is extremely simplistic in design and tells its story at its own steady pace - not unlike Schultze himself. The film's main strength lies in all the little details of character and everyday life that lie scattered throughout its frames, just waiting for the viewer to pick up on. It's not out to shove a great, lofty message down people's throats; it just follows Schultze on his travels (eventually finding him navigating through the waters of Louisiana) and invites you to come along. As with all proper adventures, he meets a wide variety of people and learns more about himself as a person than he ever would have back in his home town.
Horst Krause gives a wonderful, subtle performance as the child-like Schultze who doesn't talk too often, yet says so much about his character with the way he quietly takes in a given situation or politely lifts his hat to strangers (more often than not, he reminded me of a German Monsieur Hulot). As Bob reminisced, a particularly great scene is when Schultze first comes across Zydeco music on his radio. To simply watch Schultze react to this strange, new kind of music is a treat in and of itself, and the film is filled with these sorts of scenes: ones that mainly focus on new encounters and the ways that people (both Schultze and others) react to them. The results are often humorous and almost always quite touching.
The main message I got from this film is how important it is to have some sort of purpose in your life. The first part of the movie after Schultze retires shows him trying to cope with the quiet, empty life that lies ahead of him. He hangs out with his two best friends and drinks beer. He rides his bike through the town and rings his bell at the railway crossing guard who always takes too long raising the gate. He tends to his garden gnomes. He remains relatively inactive while the world seems to pass him by (best exemplified by the many trains that speed past Schultze and his friends). I really identified with these parts of the film as I myself am currently in a similar spot in my life, having just graduated from university (I know - pretty much the opposite of retirement, but still, both achievements are important milestones that signify the end of a life's chapter, not to mention the ambiguous, question mark-filled void more commonly known as the future which comes afterwards) and spent a positively bland and fairly uneventful summer doing...well, not much of anything, just like Schultze. However, with his new-found love for Zydeco music, Schultze finds a sort of liberation; something that essentially re-vitalizes him and his spirit (which leaves me considering taking up the accordion myself). As Schultze learns and proves as he embarks on his travels, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep going forward.
Many thanks to Bob for telling me about this one, and I in turn highly recommend it.