Ieuan Jones has written a review of Toni Erdmann, which is showing in our cinema from the 17-23 March. Tickets available here.
Toni Erdmann is a character dreamt up by a German music teacher called Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a prankster and braggart with outsize false teeth and a preposterous wig. He is a pure joke-shop-level creation, all whoopee cushions and silly disguises, that once upon a time no doubt hugely impressed his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller). Ines is all grown up now, though – she is a hard-nosed businesswoman who doesn’t really see the funny side of her elderly dad’s japes anymore, in fact she likely sees them as pretty pathetic.
Still, not one to take the casual brush-off lightly, Winfried decides there is no better way to reconnect with his estranged daughter than for Toni to gate-crash Ines’s important business venture in Romania. Hilarity ensues, of course, but so does a whole heap of curiosity and a little poignancy too, though all in the best possible measures, as we see Toni providing a catalyst for a kind of spiritual reawakening in Ines.
What is brilliant about Toni Erdmann (the film, that is) is the way in which it deals with humour in such an unexpected way. Its now-most famous scene revolves around a gathering of Ines and her business colleagues for drinks and nibbles that abruptly morphs into a nudist party. A British or American comedy would have played up the bawdiness and embarrassment that this situation would throw up. But in this sequence, undoubtedly in part because it comes from outside of this culture – and also, possibly, because it is made by a woman, Maren Ade – the laughter completely reorients itself. This isn’t the usual giggles about a character seeing a person’s bits they’re not supposed to, but a teeth-clenching spectacle that’s impossible to look away from if only to see what happens next.
Toni Erdmann is funny, sad, engrossing, preposterous and completely unpredictable, which I doubt are typical plaudits handed to every near-three hour German language comedy-drama. As much as anything, Ade has an incredible knack for choosing which moment is to go when – apparently the finished product is trimmed down from hundreds of hours of scripted scenes.
It is difficult for me to think of many films where the father-daughter relationship is so central, still less one so eccentrically and endearingly portrayed. Well, there is only this one, really – and it is one I would gladly go watch again and again.
Ieuan Jones is a freelance writer working and living in Plymouth.