Thursday, 9 February 2017
FILM REVIEW: TONI ERDMANN
Parents are embarrassing. It's a fact, and a universal law that if they can embarrass you, they will. That fear of embarrassment lessens as we grow into adults and our elders become our equals. Or better yet, we grow into adults and make a life for ourselves far, far away from their meddling. I mean, good intentions.
For Ines Conradi (Sandra Huller), her successful corporate consultancy career has taken her from her native Germany to Romania with the possibility of a future posting in Shanghai. Not that she necessarily took that role to avoid her father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), but you could understand if she had.
We first meet Winfried doing what he does best: pulling practical jokes on unsuspecting people; in this instance, masquerading as twins, one of whom may have ordered a pipe bomb via courier. The jokes are never cruel -- sometimes it's as harmless as popping in the false teeth he constantly carries in his shirt pocket and giving a goofy grin -- but depending on one's sense of humour, the reactions can range from amusement to befuddlement.
When Winfried's dog, the divorcee's longtime friend and companion passes away, he makes an impulsive decision to visit Ines unannounced. What could possibly go wrong?
Naturally, it's the most important week of Ines's career: she's trying to impress her global mining client with a downsizing proposal. But Winfried manages to upstage her at every turn; while the magnate is charmed by Winfried's ruffled manner, he suggests Ines take his wife on a shopping tour of the Romanian capital.
Not that writer-director Maren Ade's film is about corporate sexism. That may be one of the strands gently plucked at in this 160-minute black comedy, but Toni Erdmann remains first and foremost a story about the ties that bind, and the bonds that break, between fathers and daughters.
Erdmann is the moniker Winfried adopts when, having believed by Ines to have returned to Germany, he reappears as a 'life coach'; sporting a black wig, carrying a cheese grater (nope, no idea!), and wearing those aforementioned dentures. He believes his daughter's sterile, all work-no play existence needs some spicing up. And for whatever reason, Ines goes along for the ride, leading them, and the audience, to some funny and dark places.
Thankfully, the performances of Huller and Simonischek guide us through this odd, uncomfortable but never-not-entertaining journey. They make for a perfect double act, by turns sparring and folding, as hackles are raised and defences are dropped; father and daughter making emotional headway, circling back and starting again as they renegotiate their relationship.
We may not get to choose our family but you could do worse than choosing to spend time with these two.