Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Submitted by Germany: Toni Erdmann
does not have a terrific reputation for parenting. Seriously, ever seen Haneke’s
White Ribbon? Winfried Conradi will
not help it much. He is not a bad guy, but he was not a great father. He will
try to patch things up with his semi-estranged grown daughter Ines, but it is
not clear he has the proper skill set in Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann (trailer
which opens today in New York.
had been content to while away his retirement pranking unsuspecting deliverymen
in his “Toni Erdmann” persona. However, the death of his beloved pooch stirred
a need for human connection, so he decides to drop in unannounced on Ines in
Romania, where she works for an international consulting firm. She is certainly
surprised but not exactly thrilled to see him. It is an incredibly awkward visit,
but the client perversely enjoys Conradi’s humor, exactly because it is so embarrassing
for his daughter.
when Ms. Conradi thinks she is finally rid of the old man, he shows up wearing
his Toni Erdmann wig and false teeth, claiming to me a consultant and career
coach. Since “Erdmann” drops all the right names, Conradi’s expat business
friends assume he is legit, despite his obvious eccentricities. Yet, instead of
protesting or discouraging him, Conradi rather passive aggressively eggs him
on. It gets to the point where the joke takes on a life of its own and it
becomes unclear just who the jokester is. However, old man Conradi never loses
his knack for embarrassing his daughter.
film is over two and a half hours long. Yes, that is excessive, but you have to
stick with it, because it really comes together in the third act. Ade could
have probably tightened up the first hour without much sacrifice, but you can’t
say she doesn’t establish the heck out of her characters. That also allows her
to really lower the emotional boom down the stretch. In fact, the film crescendos
with a boldly extended gag worthy of Blake Edwards at his peak, except Ade
executes it with an edge of hostility that makes the film uniquely itself.
TE will probably be defined (in
iconic terms) by the pitchy but defiantly in-your-face karaoke rendition of
George Benson’s “The Greatest Love of All” (hip viewers will know Whitney
Houston was covering the pop jazz guitarist’s theme song for The Greatest, starring Muhammad Ali as
Muhammad Ali) Erdmann cajoles Conradi into performing. It is a perfect choice
in the context of the film, due to Conradi’s bitterly ironic spin on Linda
Creed’s saccharine lyrics of empowerment.
certainly asks much of Sandra Hüller—and she gives it all. As Ines Conradi, she
is stripped naked physically and emotionally. It is a bold, brittle performance
that thoroughly shuns the safe harbors of likeability and sentimentality. She
also forges some perfectly apt, profoundly dysfunctional chemistry with Peter
Simonischek’s Winfried Conradi and/or Toni Erdmann. When his character is in
character, it gives us an idea how hideously annoying Robin William’s Patch
Adams would be in real life. Yet, we can always tell he is a
crying-on-the-inside kind of clown.
is Hüller and Simonischek who put on the show, but Ingrid Bisu still
effectively presents a pointed counterpoint as Anca, the naïve junior co-worker
who often bears the brunt of Ines Conradi’s professional frustrations. She
definitely rolls it downhill, which Ade clearly presents as a problematic,
ultimately self-defeating practice.
terms of visuals and music (save for Hüller’s big number), Toni Erdmann is an unfussy production. More to the point, Ade
really understands the messiness of father-daughter relationships as well as
the stateless limbo existence of international consulting work. It pays off at
the end, but it still seems like an unlikely Oscar frontrunner, Regardless, the
group has spoken and the Academy has listened thus far, including Ade’s film on
the 9-title foreign language shortlist. Given its accessibility, Toni Erdmann is recommended for fans of
art-house crossover hits, when it opens today in New York, at Film Forum. Merry
Labels: German Cinema