Monday, February 13, 2017


Family relationships are complicated. Especially the one depicted in the Oscar-nominated German film, Toni Erdmann. On the surface, it seems like a mild comedy about a fun-loving, prankster dad who makes life impossible for his workaholic businesswoman daughter.

But there's a lot more going on beneath the surface in this offbeat meditation on family, aging, the passage of time, and the meaning of happiness.

This is the third movie directed by German filmmaker Maren Ade, and her first to get wide distribution in the States. The story revolves around Winfried Conradi (the wonderful Peter Simonischek), a retired schoolteacher who confounds a deliveryman at the door by pretending to be twin brothers, likes to fool around with a set of fake buck teeth, and puts on zombie make-up to lead a chorus of kids at a school musical recital.

Amicably divorced from his ex-wife, Winfried attends a birthday party for their grown daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller). Briefly home from Bucharest, where the German corporation she works for is setting up business interests in Romania, Ines spends most of her time on the phone with her boss.

Concerned that his daughter is trapped in a joyless life, Winfried "spontaneously" follows her back to Bucharest and shows up at her workplace. His antics drive her nuts, but we begin to understand all the ways that her life is disappointing her, just as her father fears.

Father knows best: Huller and Simonischek
 At two hours and 42 minutes, the movie feels very long; boring business meetings in particular seem to go on forever. But what better way for director Ade to make us feel the crushing airlessness of the business world? Or suggest the complexity of feeling that connects father and daughter?

It's length, accumulation of detail, and humor, that allows Ade to craft her story with such emotional richness.

PS: Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig are poised to star in the English-language remake. You heard it here first!

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