Toni Erdmann: NZIFF Review
So it appears the answer to what makes a German comedy that wows the crowds at Cannes 2016 is that it skirts around the issues of breakdowns and borderline depression.
Clocking in at nearly 2 3/4 hours Toni Erdmann is a study of father / daughter bond that's as strained as any cliched story would have.
But this is no hoary rote film - it's a film that, while offering a lot of laughs, hints at an innate sadness lurking beneath the surface and eschews the need for convenient redemption.
It's essentially in parts, a study of two kinds of depressions; one is within the daughter who's desperate to climb the corporate ladder but whose CEO she's consulting for sees her only as a local shopper to satiate his wife.
The other is with the father whose practical jokes and desire to dress up constantly donning false teeth merits eye rolls from those around him but who views it as his way to recapture his past bonds and stave off the twilight of his years after his sole companion dog dies on him.
There's no denying Toni Erdmann garners big laughs, but it could do with trimming some of the fat off in its ever so slightly long run time. It manages excruciating quite well as it excoriates the bond between family (one scene waiting for a lift after an awkward goodbye underscores the veracity of many familial relationships) and offers up some truths that are more universal than first thought.
As the eternal prankster, Peter Simonischek brings real depth to the dad Winifried Conradi (who becomes the titular Toni Erdmann with a wig and false teeth), but there’s an inherent touch of sadness running throughout and a loneliness that he captures perfectly. One scene involving his dog speaks volumes despite complete silence, and almost suggests some kind of psychotic break, given where his behaviour goes.
Equally, Sandra Huller as the estranged daughter puts a lot in the role of Ines. Her corporate aspirations are totally understandable and her desire to get her father to relate to the scale of the job she’s been asked to do give a tantalising sight into her scarred psyche that’s been ravaged by sexism in the workplace. Ultimately though, her own birthday party is one part breakdown, one part empowerment as things get as ludicrous as they possibly can while staving off the tears of repressed sadness.
Toni Erdmann is an intriguing film, one that works well as a genteel comedy, but also works better with a deep dysfunctional dive into what’s actually being said, long after the lights have gone up.