When the film opens, there is a scene of a lone wind turbine at the extreme left of the screen. Nothing else. Then a lone bicycle rider moves across from right to left. The film has begun. This same composition (the wind turbine at the left of the framed shot) will happen twice more in the film. Once somewhere in the middle, and finally to close the movie. The first scene reveals a lot about the movies pace, rhythm and intent. If you’re comfortable with scenes like that, ok. If not, press stop right there and move on to something else. The film in many ways feels like a slide-show in parts. There are scenery shots, textured, reflective, quiet. No particular reason except to set the mood.
Three miners are being retired. They have worked together for years. Drank together. Fished together. They’re a bit lost in retirement, but the focus becomes Schultze. Schultze is an accordion player, exclusively in the polka mode. One night (he seems to have trouble sleeping) the light snaps on (Schultze is out of the frame at this point). He gets a glass of water and snaps on the radio. Surfs around. Hears accordion music which is different from the way he plays. He listens a short time, and snaps the radio off and starts to leave. Then he snaps it back on again to the music, trying to process what he’s hearing. He snaps it off again, and goes back to bed. But that stumbled across music will change the course of the rest of his life. Of course his friends support him, but most other people don’t understand why he seems to be changing his musical tastes at this late stage. At a yearly local music festival, he is asked if he will be playing again this year. The polka? Yes, ok. Later he suggests he’d like to play something else this time. The organizer relents. The music is not received well by the audience. “Nigger” music is shouted out.
But Schultze is not to be deterred in his quest to discover the roots of this new music (zydeco). When1 he is selected to represent their musical organization at their sister city in America (New Braunfels, Texas) he goes there. But after listening to some of the acts (traditional oompah music and polka-yodeling ‘cordine) he packs up and sets out on a boat journey to the bayou. Somehow he has gotten himself a boat (it’s not a part of the films explicatory style to tell us how) and we are along for the ride on his travels, Jim Jarmusch style, and mindful of the films of Norwegian Director Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories). The film ends much the same way as it’s been told up to that point (we’re not sure how/why/what happened happened. It just does. Shultze has gotten the blues, but not in the sense you might think.