BUFS Preview: Toni Erdmann

This week, BUFS is pleased to present the Oscar-nominated film Toni Erdmann, a Drama/Comedy from  award-winning German writer and director Maren Ade.

Toni Erdmann follows a circumspect woman (Sandra Hüller) forced to spend time with her estranged father (Peter Simonischek) when he comes for a surprise visit. On the surface level, it’s a story of a loving father/prankster who is so concerned with the happiness of his workaholic daughter that he creates a ridiculous alter ego named Toni Erdmann to cheer her up. “Toni” who sports an absurd wig and fake teeth enjoys showing up unexpectedly places to embarrass his daughter, places like work functions. The film sounds like it should be hilarious, and while it does have its comical moments, Toni Erdmann is an achingly sad German film.

The film opens with a Winfried Conradi (Simonischek) swimming round 70 and pranking a delivery guy by pretending the package being delivered might be a bomb. After disappearing in the house, he reappears as his brother, wearing a disguise, including a handcuff on one wrist as if he’s escaped from prison. His daughter Ines (Hüller) works the demanding job of a corporate consultant and feels alienated by her father. Viewers get to see Ines’ unhappiness and frustration which derives from the amount of time she spends asserting herself in the inherently belittling environment known as the workforce as a woman.

It is a film about how a powerful woman navigates the workplace without passing judgement on how she does so. Taking almost depraved pleasure in the absurdities of modern life, even when they border on tragic, Toni Erdmann looks at the westernization of Europe’s eastern bloc via insidious yet bland capitalist consultants. While set in the unpromising world of German business consultancy, Toni Erdmann is a weird thoughtful and affecting triumph for both writer-director Maren Ade and star Sandra Hüller.

Toni Erdmann provides a tonal range argued to be the best of 2016. It takes self-mortification to a hilarious extreme and Hüller and Simonischek create a relationship that feels genuine in its mix of affection and exasperation. The disappointment met on both sides continuously occurs despite neither one intending to hurt the other. The high-concept comedy feels rooted in the real world and refuses to conform to rigid templates, Toni Erdmann is an emotional rollercoaster worth experiencing.

Toni Erdmann screens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Theatres, Pen Centre. Visit www.brocku.ca/bufs for
details.

-Meagan Forde, Contributor 

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