Schultze Gets the Blues

Starring Horst Krause. In English and German with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, April 22, at the Granville 7

A fat, middle-aged Bavarian accordion wizard named Schultze (Horst Krause), as you might have guessed, wins a contest and gets a free trip to a music festival in Texas. No biggie there, as Schultze's father and grandfather before him could always be counted on to win the annual event, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. However, the confluence of forced retirement and a sudden discovery of alternative radio have confronted him with other forms of squeezebox playing. His newfound love of zydeco freaks him out at first and alienates him from his oompah colleagues, although they are intrigued by the lifelong bachelor's new interest in Cajun cooking.

The early sections of Michael Schorr's debut feature are beautifully observed and marked by real compassion for aging fellows who find themselves at sea in the new Germany. But he doesn't know quite what to do with Schultze once our corpulent hero, who speaks almost no English, heads into the swampy unknown of black American music. And despite some playfully surreal moments of culture clash (in the vein, say, of Bagdad Cafe or any Finnish movie that comes to mind), as well as some really stunning long shots of the Gulf of Mexico and nearby waterways, there are some notably wasted opportunities.

Mostly, the writer-director doesn't seem to have sufficiently imagined the dark-skinned objects of Schultze's obsession. And given the film's slightly dragged-out two-hour length, it seems strange that we never get a sequence with the lapsed polka man playing his music for the people who changed his life. The ending may feel a bit of a cheat to some viewers, too, but Schorr has a firm enough grip on the tone to make it work.