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Monday, June 12, 2017


(Peter Simonischek & Sandra Hüller)

Toni Erdmann is a winner and my film of the year so far. (Review by Patrick Compton - 10)

This German movie may appear to be a comedy, but it’s better to think of it as a beautifully judged father-daughter drama with laughs. Whatever you call it, Toni Erdmann is a winner and my film of the year so far.

Dad is an ageing baby boomer with a penchant for silly japes; his daughter is a stressed businesswoman under constant pressure in modern, heartless, capitalist Europe. How can these two come together, except as conflicting forces?

Well, director, producer and scriptwriter Maren Ade has shown us the way with this original, long (162 minutes) and absorbing film. It’s a movie that is at once melancholy and hilarious, painful and hopeful, whacky and woebegone. And yes, it needs every minute of its length to fully create its world.

The movie is essentially about two people. Peter Simonischek is remarkable as Winfried Conradi, a huggie bear of a man who uses paint, wigs, costumes and joke-shop false teeth to clown around, often to his daughter’s intense embarrassment.

Ines (a magnificent, subtle performance by Sandra Hüller) couldn’t be more different. Tense and anal, perpetually on the end of her cellphone, she no longer finds her dad’s jokes funny and is relieved to see the back of him after a home visit when she returns to Bucharest where she works as a management consultant.

Imagine, therefore, her consternation when her business dealings are dealt a savagely hilarious blow by a surprise visit from her father who decides to take a holiday after the death of his beloved dog. This time, however, he comes in the disguise of one Toni Erdmann, an alleged “life coach”.

As Ines goes about her life, she is stalked by Toni who turns up in hotel lobbies, boardrooms, night clubs and restaurants. As this continues, the word “frosty” doesn’t even start to describe their relationship.

Gradually, however, it becomes clear that Toni’s shenanigans are a desperate attempt to show his daughter that there’s a better, richer life out there. Or, in the words of William Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

It would be tempting to reduce this film to a formula; that it’s a critique of globalisation and modern capitalism, but that would be too simplistic. Aside from its political implications, the film is a deeply felt portrait of a relationship that’s gone cold but may be beginning to come alive again. This is where Hüller’s extraordinary performance hits paydirt as she shows us how Ines gradually opens herself up to receive the message that her father is trying to communicate to her. We see that this is a tortuous process in which the hurdles are many and extraordinary, but the audience is carried along on this swirling tide as two vulnerable human beings in need of love start to materialise.

There are some truly stunning moments: an uncomfortable sex scene that will put you off petit fours for life, a birthday party with a difference, a Whitney Houston song that might make you cheer and even an appearance from someone wearing a hairy Bulgarian folk costume. But don’t mistake this film for an exercise in eccentricity; it’s a deeply moving movie that might make you weep with laughter.

Toni Erdmann opened at Cinema Nouveau at Gateway on June 9. – Patrick Compton