Toni Erdmann – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Maren Ade
Writer: Maren Ade (screenplay)
Stars: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn
This is the third feature film written and directed by Maren Ade. The two principal characters are Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) and his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller). They are as different as chalk and cheese. Winfried is a joker and his daughter on the surface is a single, careerist, corporate management consultant. The film begins with Winfried’s need to play a practical joke when a parcel is delivered to him at his home. The bemused courier has to endure Winfried disappearing from the front door only to return as his alter ego, Toni Erdmann, with a bizarre wig and a set of strikingly odd teeth. The unfortunate courier is made feel more uncomfortable as Toni makes jokes about parcel bombs. He uses the wig and teeth to metamorphose into Toni throughout the film.
The tensions between father and daughter are revealed when Toni shows up at his former’s wife home when she is on a visit to see her mother. Winfried, as Toni, follows Ines back to Bucharest where she is working on some management scheme to be more efficient or to cut the labour costs of some organisation. She has long ago sold her soul into the corporate world of money.
However the arrival of her wacky father into her seemingly sterile management consultancy bubble awakens eventually within her – perhaps part of her inherited genetics from her father- her own unusual, embarrassing but ultimately hilarious behaviour. Maren Ade uses more than once the opening of a door to mark the line between the commonplace and the bizarre. That threshold is a place where uncertainty reigns.
The uncertainty marks the threshold between Winfried and Ines as father and daughter, as music teacher and management consultant and as an eccentric and as a conformist. These uncertainties are used by Ade to create highly comic moments where various other characters go along with or are sucked into outlandish schemes because they are gullible or because of their own conditioning, they are too polite to say no.
The film lasts for two and half hours and it says a great deal for the skill of Ade and the actors Simonischek and Hüller that these “grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented” happenings hold your attention the full time. The world is a dislocated place. Ade in creating Toni Erdmann admits to that dislocation and portrays it in comic form.