Director: Maren Ade
Writer: Maren Ade (screenplay)
Stars: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn
Review by Gilbert Seah
Chosen as the BEST FILM of 2016 by Sight and Sound’s international critics poll, this much talked about Cannes hit is everything an excellent film can be. It is an entertaining hilarious comedy with the darker theme of life. TONI ERDMANN delivers a message on life, as subtly revealed through this-matched relationship between a practical jokester father and his over-serious corporate daughter who has forgotten how to laugh.
Germans are renowned for their obsession with organization, punctuality (they are known to alway arrive at scheduled meetings early) and rules. People have also mentioned that the lack of humour in Germans is partly due to the structure of their language. I would like to think then that writer/director Maren Ade (this is her third feature, after FOREST FOR THE TREES and EVERYONE ELSE) understands this and has a made a film based on these beliefs as her biggest joke on the German people.
Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a retired piano teacher, a divorcee who delights in persistent pranks and impersonations that alienate (and occasionally alarm) everyone in his German suburb. He has not been much for staying in touch with his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), a high-ranking management consultant in Bucharest who is as controlled and rigid as her father is impish. Ines also possesses finely tuned radar for the nuances of social interaction — a trait that serves her well in the corporate world but only intensifies her discomfort when Winfried pays a surprise visit. Whenever Ines is meeting her clients or friends, father always shows up unexpectedly with his ruffled hair and fake teeth, often pretending to be a character called TONY ERDMANN.
The film’s prized sequence has father and Ines showing up together unexpectedly at a family party. Father suddenly announces that they will perform a song. He plays the piano while she breaks out delivering Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”, sung not perfectly but from the heart. This is an intimate scene between father and daughter, the song sung by actress Huller herself. The words are true to what the film is all about, which makes this perhaps the best scene in a film this year. This segment got that rare standing ovation mid-way during its screening at Cannes. It is followed by another key one, in which Ines’s guests show up to an unannounced ‘naked conference’ supposedly for work team building.
Ade’s film looks so effortless that its success and effect is alarming – but in a good way. The occasional jittery framing reminds the audience that Ade is using hand held camera and mostly that an excellent film can be created without the use of special equipment, special camera or special effects.
Ade must be congratulated for her finely devised comedic set-ups, just as surprising as the unexpected times the father shows up on her daughter. She displays a prefect gift for timing and a keen eye on the surroundings.
TONI ERDMANN s a comedy on life that everyone can relate to. This is the main reason the film is so endearing. It is hilarious with so many laugh-out loud moments and also an observant piece on what corporate society has become. I have watched the film a second time – a true test of a good film if it can stand a second viewing, and I must say the second viewing was more rewarding than the first. It is so good to laugh about life and relationships. The Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) which I am a member of, has awarded the film the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actress and best Director Awards.
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