Most recent comedies we’ve seen have been funny in chops but Berlin-based filmmaker-Maren Ade’s latest work-Toni Erdmann, which she presented at the 69th Cannes Film Festival is nothing like the others—it’s a full blown comedy, straight from the start to the end.
And it’s not just for the laughs, the emotionally explosive comedy has a valuable social message coloured in a perfect balance of sweet and sour dose.
The near 3 hours film vividly stamps into the minds of the audience that, German comedy still exists—and it can even be enjoyed in its raw state, uncensored.
The film revolves around Winfried (played by Peter Simonischek), a former school teacher whose comic alter ego is Toni Erdmann, and his workaholic, over stressed only daughter-Ines (played by Sandra Hüller).
Ines’ work is all she has and it takes all of her time; we are made to understand within the first few scenes that Ines has stopped coming home to see her father—whose solace for the absence of her daughter is to hire a substitute daughter.
If the concept of hiring a substitute daughter does not sound weird and yet funny to you, the various scenes; from hotels to highly important corporate meetings via a nude birthday party and a night out with drugs on consumption will definitely ignite your laughing shocks.
With Winfried’s daughter now staying in Romania, away from home, he gets on a plane to visit her unannounced—that was after his suspicion that Ines, a consultant for an Oil company only wore a façade of happiness and was deeply unfulfilled, from their last encounter.
Winfried’s visit was a grand bother— an inconvenience Ines tried to put up with, thinking the trip was an escape for Winfried, from the fact that his aged dog had died leaving him internally devastated.
But there was a meaning behind the trip, beyond what Ines envisaged; Winfried was there to inject a sense of purpose into her life and to establish if his daughter was really happy. A conversation on this and the general meaning of life, despite laced with humour did not go well between the two.
Perhaps, Maren Ade wanted to reiterate how uncomfortable such conversations though important are to a lot people—especially, those who seem to be in bed with just their work and nothing else.
But then, she cleverly revisited the conversation, the underlying message of the film later at a time which was so perfect—such that the incident at hand in itself would make a call for evaluating one’s existence a winsome idea.
Winfried is a hilarious old man; he intensely irritates his friends and family with wacky humour and jokes about everything—there’s no dull moment with him. His jokes, though funny are interestingly convincing such that, like the other actors, most times it takes a few seconds to realize he’s not being serious after all, and that he’s serving a joke.
He is a walking load of jokes, never short of it—and it runs through even those scenes which are meant to be deep on the central message of happiness and purpose.
Winfried does not only wear false teeth to spice up his jokes and his initial clown painted face was just for the kids—he added to his collections all manner of wigs. He even presented himself as the German ambassador—adopting this new identity just to achieve his goal of wanting his daughter to look beyond the pile of workload and office targets into a life of purpose, undiluted by corporate pressure.
Toni Erdmann is hysterically funny—without compromising on the essence of the central message, Maren Ade is brilliantly able to command unending laughter throughout the film.
Probably, this is the best German comedy we’ve ever seen. It’s beautiful and cuts ought the increasing political correctness of contemporary comedy—what must be said was said and what must be presented in its raw state was done.
(Germany-Austria) A Komplizen Film production in co-production with Coop99, KNM, Missing Link Films, SWR/WDR/ARTE. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach. Executive producer, Ben von Dobeneck. Co-producers, Bruno Wagner, Antonin Svoboda.
Directed, written by Maren Ade. Camera (color, widescreen), Patrick Orth; editor, Heike Parplies; music, Patrick Veigel; production designer, Silke Fischer; art director, Malina Ionescu; set decorator, Katja Schlömer; costume designer, Gitti Fuchs; supervising sound editor, Bernhard Maisch; visual effects supervisor, Manfred Büttner; assistant director, Christian Hoyer; casting, Nina Haun.
Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell, Ingrid Bisu, Vlad Ivanov, Victoria Cociaș. (German, English, Romanian dialogue).