TONI ERDMANN: father and daughter, laugh and marvel


Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek in TONI ERDMANN

Toni Erdmann is a MUST SEE. You might not expect an almost three-hour German comedy to break through, but I’ve seen it, and I think that it should win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture.  Writer-director Maren Ade gives us a woman’s perspective of a father-daughter relationship, creating a totally original and unforgettable father who takes prankstering into performance art.

Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a hard charging international management consultant.  She is somewhat estranged from her dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek), an under achieving music teacher.  You get the impression that Winfried wasn’t the most responsible parent. Regretting the state of their relationship and unable to relate to the workaholic that she’s become, he decides to impose himself on her life. He takes an extended vacation and shows up uninvited at her current corporate gig in Romania – and reinvents himself into a corporate alter ego who crashes her business meetings. It’s hilarious.

Winfried is a compulsive jokester of uncommon imagination, relentless and deviousness. The brilliance in Peter Simonischek’s performance is the devilish determination in his eyes (“Yes, I AM really going there”).  He gets the most out of a set of gag false teeth than any single prop in cinema history.

Ines must react to Winfried’s onslaught of ever more elaborate, outrageous and high stakes practical jokes by maintaining a straight face and carrying on without giving away her shock, embarrassment and desperation. She’s on the verge of abject mortification for the entire movie. Sandra Hüller is a master of the take and the slow burn. It’s a remarkable performance.

It’s almost worth watching the whole movie for a deadpan rendition of Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All“, all the funnier because it contains the lyric “they can’t take away my dignity”. There’s the funniest nude brunch you’ll ever witness. And the most random Romanian folk monster. Yet Toni Erdmann will still leave you choked up at the end.

Now the daughter is obsessively ambitious, and she has embraced cut throat global capitalism. And, if the father were related to you, you’d often want to kill him. If you hate these people, you’re not going to like the movie. But I think that Ade has made their human needs so universal, that you’ll become invested in them. I sure did.

I saw Toni Erdmann at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and I’ve been waiting months to share it with you. It’s #3 on my Best Movies of 2016. Toni Erdmann opens Friday, January 20 in San Francisco and wider throughout the Bay Area on January 27.

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