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Ignorance takes a holiday

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Schultze, Manfred, and Jürgen sit around a table with their new retirement gifts --- atrocious lamps described as both "nice" and "salty." In the days that follow this early departure from the working world, these three buddies will settle into their daily routine of fishing, quaffing, bickering, and, in the cases of Manfred and Jürgen, irritating their wives. But we know from the title of this movie that life has other plans for Schultze.

Schultze Gets the Blues (opens Friday, March 25, at the Little Theatre), the adorable first feature by German writer-director Michael Schorr, is a combination of two genres: the fish-out-of-water movie and the twilight epiphany. As Schultze (Horst Krause) plods around the house one evening, the avid accordion player turns on the radio and hears some hot zydeco sounds. It's apparent from his reaction that he never thought the accordion was used for anything beyond polkas and other tankard-hoisting music, but soon this reticent man is busting out the Cajun tunes and fixing jambalaya for his pals.

Schultze has been getting ready for a concert and wants to share this music that has burrowed into his soul with others. His friends are supportive, as is his doctor ("It's definitely not life-threatening not playing a polka for once"), but the rest of Germany may not be ready for it.

As serendipity would have it, Schultze is chosen to represent his town at an American Oktoberfest. He packs up his accordion and heads to Texas, where this man of few words --- German or English --- makes new friends (the image of the Weeble-shaped Schultze wearing his tiny bikini into the motel hot tub is unforgettable, no matter how hard you try) and falls in love with the seductive Gulf Coast and its generous inhabitants.

There's not much action in Schultze --- it's a quiet, introspective movie about a man who discovers more about himself in a matter of weeks than in his entire life up to that point. It's lovingly photographed, with meandering shots of people contemplating things --- and in the case of the Southern yokels, it's usually the camera. But the low-tech vibe only adds to its slice-of-life quality and makes you feel like more of a participant than an observer.

It's not surprising to come across movies by Americans that are basically love letters to foreign lands, being that most artists would chew their leg off for a chance to escape from the United Red States of America. But a film from another country that makes this one look good? I doubt the world is crawling with... um... Yankophiles (is there even a word for foreigners who like the US?), so we should probably take it where we can get it.

I should probably confess that I've avoided the films of British director Ken Loach for some time now. I have nothing personal against him, but I'm usually of the narrow mindset that when the agenda factor goes up, the chance for entertainment plummets. Loach's films throughout his multi-decade career have traditionally been rooted in various social, religious, and political issues, so I've always assumed they would be dull and preachy. Apparently, however, when Loach couches his views in a well-written love story with attractive, complex characters and a couple of steamy scenes, my ignorance takes a much-needed holiday.

In Æ Fond Kiss(Friday, March 25, 8 p.m., Dryden Theatre, 271-4090), Casim (Atta Yaqub) and Roisin (Eva Birthistle) meet cute after Casim and his younger sister Tahara (Shabana Bakhsh) chase some bullies into Roisin's classroom. Casim, the son of a Pakistani immigrant, works in his family's grocery store and harbors entrepreneurial dreams of his own while he DJs at a club. He's intrigued by the Irish Catholic music teacher, and it's not long before they're thoroughly entangled. What Casim neglects to mention to Roisin at the outset, however, is that an arranged marriage to his cousin in Pakistan is imminent.

Casim faces a difficult choice: Stay with Roisin and devastate his stubborn father (a heartbreaking Ahmad Riaz) or marry a virtual stranger and embrace what is essentially a foreign way of life. Tahara is looking to break away as well, having secretly applied to school in Edinburgh rather than at home in Glasgow. Only older sister Rukhsana (Ghizala Avan) seems to be willing to adhere to tradition, with an impending arranged marriage of her own that she will go to cruel lengths to ensure.

And Roisin has her own battles to fight. She needs the approval of her parish priest in order for her temporary position at the Catholic school to become permanent. But she's not yet divorced from her estranged husband and living with her Muslim boyfriend, and this priest pulls no punches in reminding Roisin what being Catholic entails.

Most culture-clash movies have but one outcome --- tradition is vital, but evolution is unavoidable. And most romances are pretty clear-cut in that it's obvious what should happen. Of course we want to see love prevail, but as Casim tells Roisin, "It's not about love. It's much more than that."

At its heart, Æ Fond Kiss could be considered a Romeo and Juliet type of tale, with its against-all-odds lovers from different backgrounds forsaking everything to be together. But while the end of Romeo and Juliet is actually the end of Romeo and Juliet, you're left with a feeling of unease at the conclusion of Æ Fond Kiss that Casim and Roisin's tidy wrap-up is actually neither of those things.

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