''Schultze Gets the Blues," a delightfully deadpan comedy from Germany, is one of those movies where nothing whatsoever seems to happen until you look closely, at which point everything happens. It's not recommended for those with short attention spans, but patient viewers will reap rewards. A droll, surprisingly deep meditation on following your dreams, ''Schultze" is a tonic to tide us over until spring.
At first you may think you've landed in a Jim Jarmusch movie: long, static camera shots filled with unmoving oddballs. We're in a small town in Saxony-Anhalt, and three aging miners are being thrown a retirement party. An impromptu chorus sings them a farewell tune, gives them each a lamp made from a large chunk of unprocessed salt, then sends them on their way. Not much lies in store for Jurgen (Harald Warmbrunn), Manfred (Karl Fred Muller), and Schultze (Horst Krause) except endless days of sitting in the biergarten avoiding their wives.
Jurgen and Manfred are the chatterboxes, forever bickering about Prussian precision versus Saxon passion. At first Schultze, the lone bachelor, seems a roly-poly found object -- if this were the Three Stooges, he'd be Larry. (That said, actor Krause is a dead ringer for late-era Stooge Curly Joe De-Rita.) About all that seems to move him is playing polkas on his accordion.
Exactly 30 minutes into the movie, just when you've decided watching ice melt has more plot development, something happens to rock Schultze's world: He hears a snippet of zydeco music on the radio -- it's ''Long Temps Passe" as performed by Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots -- and he can't get the bouncy accordion vamp out of his head. Nor can he stop playing the tune, even when the local villagers deride it in nasty racist terms. Schultze himself is unnerved, and goes so far as to make an appointment with his doctor. No luck: You can't medicate a change in musical taste.
What to do? All around the doughty retiree is evidence of hopes going down kicking: a flirtatious retirement-home grande dame (Rosemarie Diebel) with dreams of scoring big at a casino, an eccentric young barmaid (Welhelmine Horschig) who flamenco dances on tabletops. So when Schultze is chosen to travel to a music festival in the village's sister-city of New Bernhalt, Texas, he nervously prepares to dive into the unknown.
It turns out the unknown agrees with him. The back half of ''Schultze Gets the Blues" unfolds on the bayous, back roads, and honky-tonks of the American South, as the hero, Tyrolean hat wedged firmly in place, propels himself toward the source of the music that has enchanted him. It's a lazy and surpassingly lovely odyssey through time, space, rhythm, and race, and the sense of freedom in giving oneself up to chance is overwhelming. This is a casual, forgiving America -- ''Huckleberry Finn" without an ax to grind and a tubby German floating downstream in place of a boy and a runaway slave.
Dig deep enough and you'll hit the large vein of sentiment director Michael Schorr is mining. But Krause, in the lead, keeps whimsy at bay with an understated, deftly funny performance of a shallow man wading into his own depths. There have been comparisons made to ''About Schmidt," but this is the wiser and less cynical film. Schorr has made a movie that's about Schultze, and about the rest of us as well.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.