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Toni ErdmannGermany 2016
Directed by Maren Ade
Running time 162 minutes
Synopsis: A thirty-something career woman, Ines (Sandra Hüller) has to spend time with her father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), from whom she is estranged..
That Maren Ade’s film won the Cannes Critics Prize and is nominated as Germany’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of this year’s Academy Awards will perhaps have your hopes running high. That it is classified as a comedy, because it is German, perhaps not so much so. In both respects you’d be wise to be cautious.
Toni Erdmann is at once an engagingly novel account of the rapprochement between a father and daughter and a low key absurdist comedy that has modern corporatized global culture as its target.
Ines is an uptight, single woman who has dedicated her life to climbing the corporate ladder, her unswerving dedication to the values of economic rationalism having earned her a place at the boardroom table, a wardrobe of executive clothes and mutually loveless sex with a colleague. Her father is her polar opposite – an unkempt bear of a man who teaches piano to primary school children and enjoys joke-shop grade humour.
The film is the story of the clash between their two worlds as Winfried, after being coolly received by his daughter on his surprise visit to her in Bucharest where she is trying to broker a multi-national business deal, with a dogged determination to save his child from herself. takes on the alter ego of Toni Erdmann, a “life” coach who infiltrates Ines’s well-ordered world
If you can see where this film is going from the outset, once “Toni”, a kind of one-man surrealist happening, appears it becomes quite amusing as Ines decides that the only way to deal with her father is to go along with him. This ultimately leads to the highpoints of her singing a belting yet remarkably moving version of Whitney Huston’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’ to a party of Romanians having an Easter egg painting get-together and later, a “naked” party, a supposed corporate team-building exercise which goes completely pear-shaped and becomes a farce after Ines’s defences finally crack.
The film unfolds in an easy-going, natural way and despite its relatively long run time never drags (although one might also question whether it needed to be so long) thanks to the director’s own well-turned screenplay and the all-round excellent performances. Yet for all that, the film feels a little twee, an allegory driven more by its twin, albeit important, messages - that we all need to get, and stay, in touch with our inner child and that corporate culture is the devil’s work - than by any real life dynamic between the characters.