Toni Erdmann (2016)

Review #1,361

Director:  Maren Ade
Cast:  Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn
Plot:  A father tries to reconnect with his adult daughter.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy
Awards:  Won FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Feature
Runtime:  162min
Rating:  M18 for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use.
International Sales:  The Match Factory
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

Critic Leslie Felperin of ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ said this of the film: “According to the basic laws of cinema, Toni Erdmann shouldn’t work…[but] here is the world's first genuinely funny, 162-minute German comedy of embarrassment.”  I have to agree wholeheartedly.  This is no ordinary movie.  It is truly exceptional because it doesn’t have a structure to bank its narrative ups and downs on.  Instead, the screenplay is free-flowing with no definite shape or form. 

The entire film pivots on an awkward father-daughter relationship, and despite its length, there is never a dull moment.  The key reason is the film’s unique and refreshingly original treatment of a familiar theme—the vulnerability of familial ties in the modern world.  By adopting an absurdist slant that incorporates ‘irritating’ humour and irony into daily scenarios of domestic and professional life, Toni Erdmann sets itself apart from the crowd, and quite simply, I haven’t seen a movie like this before. 

The film centers on an old father and his estranged adult daughter.  Sandra Huller (in a performance worthy of any major acting award) plays Ines the daughter, who has a moderately successful career as a mid-level manager, but leads an incredibly frenetic and stressful working life in Romania.  She doesn’t speak to her father much, so when he visits her unannounced, a flurry of emotions is sparked. 

The acting chemistry between Huller and Peter Simonischek (playing the father) is irresistible.  Through the course of the film, Ines, ever so serious in her work and in person, has to deal with her goofy father who is desperate to connect with her.  That’s all I should say, and I will leave you to discover one of 2016’s best films.  It is moving, outright hilarious, surprisingly intelligent and contains arguably one of the most bizarre sequences in modern cinema, which is certainly worth the admission ticket alone. 

In only her third feature in 13 years, German filmmaker Maren Ade (who interestingly also served as producer for Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Tabu, 2010; Arabian Nights trilogy (2015)) has made her most accomplished picture yet, and is certainly deserving of the Palme d'Or or a major award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.  Instead it got the FIPRESCI prize, but at least that meant the critics absolutely loved it.  And I believe you will too.

Verdict:  One of 2016’s best films, this is a truly exceptional and riveting drama about a father and his estranged daughter, with some absolutely knockout moments of absurdity and comedy.


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