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FNE at Cannes 2016: Review: Toni Erdmann

2016-05-15

CANNES: The highly unlikely 162 minute German Toni Erdmann which screens in competition in Cannes is director Maren Ade’s third and undoubtedly most accomplished film to date which is saying a lot after her critically acclaimed previous work.

German director Ade earned kudos for her 2003 directorial debut The Forest for the Trees an original comedy that garnered a string of festival appearances and she followed up in 2009 with her Everyone Else another sharp take on modern morality through a comic prism.

In between Ade has not been idle working constantly as a producer but perhaps it just takes six or seven years for a work of this complexity and originality to develop. Ade also wrote the script for the film.

Toni Erdmann is to story of an estranged father and daughter whose mutual connection grows out of a shared loneliness and depression that does not at first glance seem like a plot for a comedy.

The father Winfried conradi is played by Peter Simonischek who deserves an award at least for this complex character portrayal which shows multiple layers of meaning and a depth of feelings that is a tour de force. Winfried is a practical joker who disguises himself in various characters to amuse himself and stave off his underlying depression. 

His daughter Ines played by Sandra Hüller is also excellent in this film that focuses mainly on the interaction between two people and their growing relationship and need for each other.  Ines is a busy career woman intent on climbing the corporate ladder despite the lack of emotional satisfaction her corporate lifestyle involves.

Neither character is very lovable despite being all too human and Ade manages to convince us to be interested in them as the progress through a middle process of finding both themselves emotionally and each other.

Winfried is a semi-retired piano living in the suburbs of a German town. We see this eccentric character amusing himself by confusing the local postman with his absurd disguises.  But Winfried is essentially a lonely man and when his much loved dog dies he decides to visit his estranged daughter who is working in Bucharest.

Winfried chooses to disguise himself as the flashy Toni Erdmann when he makes his appearance in his daughter’s life and needless to say Ines the serious corporate executive is not amused.  But she plays along mostly it seems to avoid embarrassment in front of her co-workers.

What follows in both touching and comedic as father and daughter grope their way towards each other emotionally through a series of increasingly absurd events as both slowly come to realise they need each other.

While the running time of the film might seem long it is hard to imagine the playing out of this development of this father daughter relationship and all the subtle things Ade has to tell us about the relationship between parents and their children happening in anything less. 

Ade’s screenplay and dialogue is rich in detail and convincing in its ability to portray real modern day lives and their need for connection.  This is a film that is destined to find a strong audience at festivals and hopefully strong box office in Germany. 

 

Toni Erdmann (Germany, Austria, Romania)
Directed by Maren Ade
Produced by Komplizen Film
Coproduced by Coop99 Filmproduktion, Hi Film Productions
Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell, Ingrid Bisu, Vlad Ivanov, Victoria Cociaș

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