Release date: 14 May 2016
Running Time: 162 Minutes
Language: German / English / Romanian (subtitled)
A strained father – daughter relationships bears the focus in Maren Ade’s beautifully constructed oscar-nominated comedy drama.
Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), divorced school teacher, and father to straight-laced business consultant Ines (Sandra Hüller), enjoys a prank or two. The opening scene sees him tortuously tease a delivery driver regarding his mailbomb-making “brothers” package – the “joke” continuing as he returns to the door having donned fake teeth and sunglasses to play the part of the “brother”.
The false teeth continue to take starring role as Winfried pays an unannounced visit to his somewhat estranged daughter in her Budapest office. Staking out her arrival in reception for several hours, he dons teeth and sunglasses and jocularly buries his head in a newspaper, walking alongside as she enters with several key business contacts. The scene, almost painful to watch, plays out like much of the film – the laughs coming through a grimace as father’s prank falls on daughter’s straight-faced indifference.
The two, briefly and awkwardly, spend time together before Winfried apparently leaves for home, albeit only to reappear in Ines’ life once again as ill-disguised (with aforementioned teeth and glasses) alter-ego “Toni Erdmann”; a larger than life character who is apparently life-coach to one of Ines’ clients (or the German Ambassador).
The relationship takes centre stage throughout the film’s long 162 minutes, but also provides a backdrop upon which themes of misogyny, European politics and capitalism are overlaid. However the film remains at its best when the comedy is at its most awkward. From a “naked party” to a gloriously painful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” this is a film often watched through parted fingers; these moments are cringe humour at its finest.
Throughout though the balance of drama and comedy is kept tight; the characters are three-dimensional and complex. Despite his misfiring pranks Winfried isn’t allowed to become the butt of the joke, his sensitivity and concern for his daughter never far below the surface. As Ines, Hüller never sets a foot wrong, moving deftly from playing straight-man to chasing a costumed Winfried / Toni through the park for an emotionally charged hug.
The result is a tender and rather beautiful film, pieced together with alternately light, bizarre and at times cringe-worthy humour and comes highly recommended.