‘Toni Erdmann’ — Who’s the Daddy?

So that’s certainly a film that lives up to the hype!

Maren Ade’s ‘Toni Erdmann’ might just be the best movie about the father/daughter relationship I’ve seen as semi-retired school teacher Winfried attempts to connect with his career focused daughter, Ines. He seems concerned about how her emotionally isolated life seems to be draining the fun out of her and she is concerned about his embarrassingly unfunny practical jokes.

After an awkward meeting at a family event Ines returns from Berlin to Bucharest and her high-powered job helping large corporations lay off workers by outsourcing who takes responsibility for the redundancies. But her joke-playing dad has followed her back! Thinking that he has done so due to loneliness she treats him dismissively and can’t wait to get him out of her life. Feeling unwanted by his daughter Winfried heads back to Germany and she carries on with her career and socialising with her high-powered business friends.

And then Toni Erdmann appears and Ines’ life becomes excruciatingly, and hilariously, stripped bare.

‘Toni Erdmann’ is a bit of a slow burner taking its time to set up characters and relationship dynamics. But once everything is in place the movie becomes unstoppable in both its humour and observations about family. And boy, is it funny as hell.

Toni Erdmann is, obviously, her joke-playing father in a wig and false teeth but he is doing this not for laughs or to ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ his way back into her life. No, this is humour and jokes used as intervention, almost a form of comedic terrorism that he can inflict on her life as Winfried/Toni tries to get his daughter to snap out of her rut.

What makes it sustain its almost three hour run time is that it encompasses so much more as well, so Toni’s antics start to effect international business deals, labour relations and corporate corruption, along with the shallow nature of the modern day European business world.

Yet central to all this is the father/daughter dynamic as bit by bit, set-piece by increasingly funny set-piece, as her identities — business, social, romantic — are all challenged and exposed. And even though Toni is causing these moments of crisis he is also, like any good father, her guide and protector throughout all this silliness, especially as Ines is taken from independent business woman to vulnerable child. There is a wonderfully moving image of how a young daughter must see her father when she is a toddler- a looming, bear-like elemental force, frightening in appearance but full of protective love and power. And the way father and daughter interact, the looks of exasperation suddenly transforming into fleeting glances of total love and recognition, are subtle yet so powerful in the way only people that know each other intimately can mainfest.

And performances are something to behold, especially Sandra Huller as Ines who can go from cut-throat wheeler-dealer to awkward, yet hilarious, sex-scenes to brave physical honesty to toe-curling, yet tear-inducing, karaoke with effortless skill. It’s a stunning performance.

‘Toni Erdmann’ is wonderful and a truly unique film. You’ll laugh, cry, be shocked and want to hide with embarrassment all at the same time, but you won’t be able to look away. I loved it.

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