Instead of an ordinary review for this special film, I’ve decided to write just an outline to name the different reasons that make Toni Erdmann stand out as one of the best (if not the best) films of the year. Come to think of it, I would definitely place it among the top 3 films, along with Moonlight and Paterson. Anyway, here are the reasons:
- It encompasses a wide range of human feelings. From melancholy to laughter to simply feeling really embarrassed, the film is an emotional roller-coaster albeit with subtle shifts (Not unlike Mozart’s music which has a similar effect on me.)
- First-class acting and possibly the most realistic 3-dimensional characters you can get in a film. Even the supporting actors and actresses deliver top-notch performances with real depth.
- A meticulous attention to detail from Maren Ade, the director. Apparently she shot 120 hours of footage. I can imagine the pain and effort in the editing room, since each scene is perfectly shot with every item, gesture and feeling in place.
- A non-judgemental handling of a very sensitive issue. Ade handles the difficult father-daughter relationship with extra care, and while all the tiny details are there, the detached point of view does not allow any stereotypes or conclusions to settle. And all this without losing momentum.
- Near-perfect representation of the effects of globalisation, the corporate world and the world of Business Consulting extended to the EU’s poorest countries: we learn that in Bucharest one can find the largest shopping mall in Europe, to which no-one goes to because they can’t afford it.
- The avoidance of all clichés — be it in dialogue or the portrayal of the characters. All of whom seem ready to experiment with life, despite their upbringing and dull daily routines.
- A perfect structure. At nearly 3-hours long, the director manages to develop her ideas masterfully, surprising you at every turn of the plot. This is a remarkable feat.
- Finally, the language itself. Those of you who often describe the German language as harsh sounding and aggressive (and I know some of you refer to it as barking) should perhaps re-evaluate your stereotypical opinion and enjoy its virtues: soft, melodic and intellectual — the language of the great European philosophers and poets.
Finally, I understand that most cultures appreciate the sense of humour differently. While the majority of English-speaking reviews refer to Toni Erdmann as a comedy, I’d classify it as a social drama. Did I laugh? Yes, a couple of times. Still, the moments of sadness, pity and embarrassment cannot be forgotten. And maybe this is the main achievement of this extraordinary film: how it manages to evoke the shift of the most basic human feelings with a sense of uneasiness as if this were the most natural process.
Title: Toni Erdmann
Director: Maren Ade