“Toni Erdmann” (2016)
Running Time: 162 minutes
Written & Directed by: Maren Ade
Featuring: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn
Germany and comedy may not be two words that are synonymous with each other but after “Toni Erdmann” (2016) this might change – for the better. The viewer should be prepared for the almost three hour running time – but fear not the film moves along at a good pace, there never feels like any short changing much like any good drama. The film is at once epic but at the same time deeply personal in a way rarely seen in today’s movie world.
The film revolves around Winfried Conradi, a divorced music teacher, an old-age hippie of sorts, with a passion for bizarre pranks involving several fake personas. Over the bereavement of his dog, he decides to reconnect with his daughter Ines, who is pursuing a career in business consulting and is currently posted in Bucharest, Romania, where she works on an outsourcing project in the oil industry.
The story is pretty crazy and I wont spoil it but it this film has to be seen to be believed – it is a great tale that will have you chuckling well after the movie is over. It is not to say there are no dramatic moments – any film dealing with estrangement is inherently going to be dramatic but the levity is a welcome diversion.
There is tragic realism within the film as well from not only both characters but their surroundings as well especially in the final third of the film. The director, Maren Ade, frames the actors in honest and satisfying ways – we are invited into this new world, both emotionally and physically.
With most successful comedies there are elements of drama and at the core of all the fun is the relationship that exists or doesn’t exist between Winfried and his daughter, Ines. This is a great way to build a film using the tension of Toni’s odd mannerisms and sense of humor. This film did remind me in a way of the James L. Brooks film “As good as it gets” (1997), which put the main characters OCD as a way for him to explore a possibly difficult new relationship. No surprise then that Jack Nicholson has expressed interest in remaking this film featuring himself in the main role.
This film operates on both a micro and a macro level – it has something to say about the awkward ways in which we lead our lives, the masks that we put on to deal with happiness, success, failure and defeats. This is what makes the film so great – yes its German but it uncovers universal truths that all the best films do so well. There is also a comment to be found about the state of Europe and in doing so comments on our Global situation where borders are both being erected in parts and removed in others. This is a challenging film but for all the good reasons.
This is the frontrunner for this years Foreign Film Academy Award and to be honest it probably will win and deservedly so. It is a unique film that focuses on humor and not conflict to solve problems – something we could all learn from in this very divisive time.Highly recommended.