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Published February 1st 2017
An endearing, funny film that will surprise you
Toni Erdmann is a German film directed and written by
Maren Ade, which has received worldwide acclaim. Screening in February, Australian audiences will have the chance to see what the fuss is about. The dramedy centres around two characters, a father and daughter, whose relationship is at a low point. But all is not lost and sometimes only a father's love, understanding and alter ego can provide solace in the competitive, superficial corporate world.
The beginning of the movie starts with a light-hearted scene that shows off Peter Simonischek's comedic strings. A mailman arrives to deliver a package and Peter's character Winfried answers the door. He claims that the package is for his brother who has gotten out of prison and likes to 'defuse' things. He continues the ruse while pretending to look for his brother only for him to return dressing more bachelor-life like in a robe and new accent. The quirky humour of the interaction prepares you for Winfried's playful, off-centre personality. From here, Winifried capitalises on every moment to bring humour to the people around him. Not everyone appreciates it though, least of all his daughter Ines.
This is who the film is really about, Ines, who is played by Sandra Hüller - Germany's equivalent to our own Cate Blanchett. Ines is the quintessential millennial go-getter who is working as a consultant to a large oil company in Bucharest. She has her sights set on impressing her biggest client so she can reach her dream of moving to Shanghai. Ambition glints in her eye as she ruthlessly strategies and navigates the masochistic environment she has adapted to. Unfortunately, she hadn't planned on her prankster-loving dad, Winifried to come crashing back into her life.
Winifried spontaneously visits his daughter who is in the middle of hosting the oil company's CEO. The differences between them are stark as Ines tries to balance the pressures of her career accompanied by her father's unpredictable outbursts. After struggling to reconnect with Ines, Winifried leaves for the airport. But that's not the last you see of him and this time he's not going to be ignored...
Winifried adopts the persona, 'Toni Erdman', who appears out of nowhere to make an unpleasant re-entrance during Ines' girl's night out. You can feel the discomfort radiating off Ines as she squirms and fidgets, visibly stressed about the potential humiliation of the man with false teeth and a really, really bad wig. As 'Toni', Winifred uses cover stories with Ines' friends and colleagues to scratch beyond the surface of the daughter he used to know, Ines has little choice but to play along. It's unchartered territory for both of them and has some surprising and hilarious results.
At its heart, Toni Erdmann is a powerful story of a father-daughter relationship who have become distanced from years of separation. The film's endearing message that family bonds are never truly lost is communicated loud and clear in the most subtle of moments. The time given to many of the scenes allows you to observe the intimacy shown in the looks, the body language, and dialogue between Winifried and Ines, that is easily and sometimes painstakingly relateable.
The funniest scene in the film comes towards the end, to reward the patient audience. And we were most definitely rewarded. I won't ruin it for you but I can guarantee it is one of the most interesting cocktail parties ever depicted in film! Finally, you see Ines with her guard completely down in the most unusual way - like father, like daughter.
At times, it could have benefited from music to help set the tone but that is the only criticism I can come up of this Cannes Film Festival favourite. Ultimately, the almost three hours that you spend in the cinema is worth it for what Toni Erdmann gives you in return - laughter, tears and a heartfelt story for the ages.