Well. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at a German art-house comedy (note: NEVER). Although to be fair I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a comedy full stop. Maren Ade’s follow up to her Silver Bear winner Everything Else is on course to be my favourite film of the festival. The story of a Winfried, a father keen on a practical joke who uses japery to attempt to reconcile with his stressed, overworked and deeply unhappy daughter. It’s like nothing I’ve seen in quite some time, it’s pitching itself as intellectual movie, simultaneously managing to be laugh out loud (in fact some of the time it was so funny people started to applaud) and at the same time an art-house movie AND coming in at a positively self indulgent 162 minutes and, yet, not one second feels like a drag. Quite the achievement Ms Ade. Sandra Huller and Peter Simonschek as daughter and father respectively deliver performances that are rooted in reality but also deeply funny and sad at times but this is not a film reliant on schmaltz or over emotion. Humour is the card Ade pulling here and it works to great effect.
From the outset we see that middle aged Winfried is a joker. A quick fire succession of visual jokes are thrown at us including Winifred visiting his mother with Halloween face paints on and saying he has a new job euthanising old people for 50 euros a murder. Winifred is a divorced music teacher with an ailing mother and an ailing dog. On his way to have lunch with his high flying oil executive daughter, Ines, who now lives in Bucharest, we catch our first moment of sadness when Ines’ mother has thrown an early birthday for Ines without telling Winifred. ‘You have to tell me’ he says referring to his lack of gift and my heart broke a little for this bear of a man missing his daughter and no doubt missing family life. Ines is constantly on the phone and even pretending to be on the phone as he father is painfully aware. There is no malice in her towards her father; they are simply estranged although she doesn’t see that he knows her better than anyone on earth.
Ines returns to her life and we suspect that is all but Winifred decides to surprise her at her office in Budapest (scene is in itself hilarious). Ines takes this surprise well to an extent but here Winifred witnesses how painful her life actually is. Ade is a master at summing up workplace sexism so simply and effectively I almost cheered. The duo have an awkward week together and then he leaves, with an air of sadness left in his wake.
I will not ruin the surprise but suffice to say Winifred returns having reinvented himself as bewigged new man called Toni Erdmann. From here as the bizarre situation pushes itself onwards, Ines and Toni Erdmann spend more time together and begin to understand each other in deeper ways. It is touching and hilarious. Ines descends deeper into what surely looks like a nervous breakdown of sorts and again I will not ruin it but her birthday brunch is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Ines is presented as harder and more right wing than her father but this is also due to the extremely male and sexist world she holds in such high regard. Her true nature we only really get a flavour of in the film’s final scene, which actually brought me to tears, amazing after such a joyful ride but such is the magic and reality of Toni Erdmann. There is also some wry and insightful views into Europe in the working relationship between Bucharest workers, Ines and the American oil company she is trying to gain business for.
Bittersweet, raucously funny and topical, I doubt I’ll see anything better at the LFF. Do catch it if you can.
I LOVED THIS MOVIE.