Toni Erdmann (2016)
December 29, 2016 4:11 PM - Subscribe

A father tries to reconnect with his adult daughter.

Winfried is a retired music teacher, who spends his time doing bizarre pranks usually involving false teeth and a wig. His daughter Ines, a high-ranking business consultant posted in Bucharest, is as humourless and stressed-out as her dad is impish and laid back. After the death of his dog, Winfried decides to visit his daughter in Romania, and inserts himself in her life in the most cringeworthy and strangest possible ways.

Toni Erdmann is a German comedy-drama directed by Maren Ade, starring Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. Spanning an epic 162 minutes with none of the standardized story "beats" used in Hollywood (and Hollywood-like) comedies and dramas, Toni Erdmann covers a surprising lot of ground, including globalization, father-daughter relationships, Romanian toilets, glass ceilings in the corporate world, sex with pastries and Bulgarian pagan traditions.

Toni Erdmann competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and has made the shortlist of nine films to be considered for a nomination at the 89th Academy Awards. It has received numerous accolades and glowing reviews worldwide (all reviews contain spoilers of some sort):
posted by elgilito (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Most reviews describe Toni Erdmann as a comedy, but it's a little misleading. It does contain several outstandingly hilarious scenes that will certainly be included in future anthologies of cinematic humor, but the movies does not resemble any other comedy, and it may be a letdown for people who'd expect a romcom/zany/gross-out type of comedy, even though it contains a little bit of all those genres. First, it's almost 3-hour long and not much actually happens (and what happens is often somewhat enigmatic at first). Second, the two main characters are not very likeable (even though we feel for them and the actors are fantastic). Third, the background of the movie (corporate predatory practices decided in anonymous hotel rooms) is pretty bleak. Toni Erdmann is extremely difficult to describe, a bizarre mixture of Reitman's Up in the air, Lars Von Triers' Idioterne and Tati's Traffic. Still a great movie.
posted by elgilito at 4:54 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is terrific, but I found it far less funny than all of the reviews led me to expect. I'm not sure how much of that is me missing out on cultural specifics or the specifics of the languages being spoken. Because of this, in some ways, it reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite, though they are very, very different films. The film is at once bracingly cynical and weirdly uplifting. There are a few moments of inspired brilliance that really stand out, though I disagree with the critical consensus that it needs the full three hours to get its point across. Then again, the extended length is what makes it into such a genre-defying high wire act.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, but have had trouble recommending it to very many folks. I suspect there are a lot of people who will see it based on best-of-the-year and awards lists, but leave the cinema scratching their heads.
posted by drklahn at 8:09 PM on December 29, 2016

So, is Toni Erdmann the best movie of the year? Well, it's definitely better than I, Daniel Blake, to which it lost the Palme d'Or in Cannes. And it is an absolute delight to watch, whether it is as laugh-out-loud funny as described by many critics or not. As elgilito said above, it has those moments of humor that I think no recent comedy can top. To say that I was laughing hysterically during the naked party scene would be an understatement; and then the father in the costume enters and it gets even more funny, and somehow also mystical and strange.

I guess the discovery of strangeness in the very ordinary and everyday is part of what makes Toni Erdmann such a unique experience. Is there one character in the film that feels comfortable with themselves? And they cannot feel comfortable or really at home anywhere because there's always so many different contexts in which they have to act simultaneously: family, romance, business, politics, social gatherings/parties, gender relations, etc, etc. And all these contexts are here presented together, in one place. Which is how every character and their acts somehow feel out of place, all the time. It's not as if one particular character trait or one particular behavior would be out of place; again, it's all of them.

Toni/Winfried seems to be the privileged character in the sense that he knows this; he can perceive the fact that he's always out of place, always the stranger. Which is why he can adopt different identities so easily, skilfully and playfully. Winfried Conradi, Toni Erdmann, in the end it doesn't matter. It is the people who desperately try to define themselves as having one place which to call properly their own that look the most out of place.

And of course the film also knows this: life cannot be defined in one particular genre. There's comedy, there's melodrama, there's realism, there's tragedy, etc. And again, all of them together in one frame and in one moment. And it's how these different genres support and undermine each other that makes the film as complex as it is. But also somehow very natural in its strangeness.

Anyhow, even if I wouldn't immediately declare Toni Erdmann the best film of the year, I can't come up with one that is better. As I said, the whole two and a half ours was a delight and a constant discovery of little wonderful moments of cinematic ingenuity.

(Oh, one more wonderful moment commenting on the individualism of our society. When Ines has given her speech to her customers, she speaks with her coach and feels concerned about her body language, especially when listening to others' responses. The coach tells her something like this: It seems like you're actually listening. Try to concentrate more on your message. Actually listening makes you lose control of yourself.)
posted by sapagan at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

If the one sentence line "a German comedy about management consulting" doesn't drag em in at the multiplex I give up.

I really enjoyed it.
posted by JPD at 9:24 PM on December 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

OMG I want to dress as a kukeri for Halloween this year does this count as cultural appropriation Y/N? (Please don't say Y.)

A pretty strong contender for Film of the Year. I wasn't in love from the starting gun, but by a half-hour or so in I was rapt. And yeah, I think it does need the full two-and-a-half hours or whatever it is to do its work; I can't think of anything that could be deleted without a) interrupting the semi-logical flow of events, b) eliminating some of the film's spot-on insight into workaday corporate politics and/or c) eliding a favorite scene. It helps that you have no idea where the film might carom off to next, and the extended running time intensifies that sensation.
posted by Mothlight at 9:41 PM on January 1, 2017

I saw this awhile ago. Soe really good comments above.

Peter Simonischek plays the cringe-clown so well. It's pathetic, and sometimes funny, but ultimately it's kind of heartbreakinghe disappears into his own absurdity, and Ines knows it is her father in there and she can accept and show her love, but she knows it is something broken in her father that she has to just walk away from, without a word.

It's also funny that even though he can't fool the package delivery guy, he can pass himself off as a rich-ass grifter just by being a big stupid buffoon. How unrealistic!
posted by fleacircus at 9:23 PM on January 5, 2018

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