Cert: 15 / 162 mins / Dir. Maren Ade / Trailer
Okay, while I certainly haven't got the stamina to make a full-time thing of it, I do enjoy easing away from the mainstream with a bit of foreign-language cinema when I get the opportunity. You get a better class of punter intermittently looking at their phone, for one thing. Proof once again that audience-demographics are no guarantee of etiquette…
Toni Erdmann is a (mostly*1) German-language comedy about a father and daughter re-connecting after life spends several years getting in the way. Unsure where his life is heading after an unsteady reunion at his daughter Ines's birthday party, semi-retired music teacher Winfried decides to travel to Bucharest, where she's working as a hard-nosed consultant to for the energy industry. As his love of bad practical jokes and erratic sense of self-awareness (while in Romania, he invents an alternate-persona by the name of Toni Erdmann, a life-coach) begin to have an adverse impact on his daughter's professional life, they both have to take a look at the people they've become.
This is the kind of film, certainly the kind of story, I probably wouldn't bother with were it to be made with a British cast, as it would instantly turn into a twee-fest starring Jim Broadbent or Ricky Tomlinson or somesuch. Similarly, a US-version would almost certainly be unbearably mawkish, probably with Will Ferrell on-board. But the subtle discord of pan-European cultural references make this (for a British audience, at least) familiar yet off-kilter. It also helped immensely that this was the first time I'd really seen any of the cast, so it was easier for my brain to accept the characters as they're presented (rather than Jim Broadbent or Will Ferrell); startlingly real and startlingly flawed.
The comedy comes from a borderline grotesque-farce element, delivered with flawless deadpan execution, revolving around situations and general reactions, rather than critically-timed gags*2. Sandra Hüller leads effortlessly as the inwardly struggling Ines, countered and challenged perfectly by Peter Simonischek as her shambolic father, Winfried/Toni (think of a German Les Patterson on slightly better behaviour).
Toni Erdmann has peaks of being touching, being funny and being outright weird*3. Occasionally at the same time, but that's by no means the rule…
The League of Gentlemen, I reckon.
It'll hold your attention better on a large screen, but that's not essential.
…I think it does?
Couldn't tell you, although it's certainly a strong play.
Level 2: This film's got Trystan Pütter in it, and he was in that War Horse along with Pip 'Kaplan' Torrens and Toby 'Additional Voices In The Old Republic' Kebbell.
*1 The dialogue frequently drops into English when the plot/characters require it. Also, the corporate backdrop of the film also informed me that the German for 'team-spirit', 'partner-case' and 'comfort-zone' are apparently 'team-spirit', 'partner-case' and 'comfort-zone'. To think we tried so hard and for so long with Esperanto only for the international language of Business-Wankers to come in and pick up the reins… [ BACK ]
*2 Alas, subtitles are the enemy of the scripted-reveal or timed banter, making foreign-language comedies jump an extra hurdle in addition to the cultural ones. Thankfully, that's largely not an issue here. [ BACK ]
*3 The film was staying just on the right side of weird until one of the characters knocked one out onto a French Fancy. And you have no idea how much I wish I was joking about that. [ BACK ]
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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