Directed by: Maren Ade
Produced by: Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski, Michael Merkt
Written by: Maren Ade
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek,Thomas Loibi, Trystan Pütter, Ingrid Bisu, Lucy Russell, Hadewych Minis
Released: 25th December 2016
Not all films are one thing, because not all people are one thing. Both can be complex, funny, sad and beautiful and Toni Erdmann is an incorporation of all of the above. It is a film that is often so funny, yet sometimes so real. German filmmaker Maren Ade, explores the fragility of a parent-child relationship during the awkward transition to adulthood. It is a touching look at the loss of carefree childhood days, when cuts could be covered with a plaster and tears could be stopped with a cuddly toy.
This is the third feature film Ade has lent both her directing and writing skills to. She is a lover of artistic realism, where subtle moments and seemingly uneventful scenes, can in fact mean so much. She is an observer; an anthropologist who finds beauty in the sadness because real relationships are fraught with real emotion. Toni Erdmann is an inspiration when it comes to cinema because of Ade’s talent and how she manages to create a picture with such truth and also such imagination; the outcome is a film that is sometimes awkward, often weird, occasionally shocking but always engrossing – which at nearly three hours long is definitely important. It also means it is time to add her previous films, The Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else to our watchlists.
Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek), himself, is the humorous, alter ego of devoted father, Winfried. He acts as a sort of bonkers Jiminy cricket to his very serious daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller). Where Jiminy Cricket wears a top hat and holds an umbrella, the conscience that is Toni Erdmann needs his own costume and props; much to the shock of Ines. Although he may dress up for laughs, he is ultimately driven by love, as he desperately watches his daughter become consumed by the corporate world and lose what little spark she has left.
Ines initially works as a contrast to the happy-go-lucky, Winfried; however, rather than the classic battle of good vs. evil, sometimes there is just good vs. real life. Ade uses the deflated Ines to beautifully portray a realistic challenge of fighting with loved ones and fighting with our own subconscious, but also why ‘sticking it to the man’ just isn’t always possible. Life doesn’t always end with a fist pump or a musical number – sometimes it’s just about surviving.
Even without the fist pump, Toni Erdmann makes it easy to laugh until we cry, because so many moments are laugh-out-loud funny, but they are also laced with a deep feeling of sentiment or sadness. Simonischek, is charmingly-hilarious throughout, but it is the development of Hüller’s character Ines which is, at times, truly captivating. Her journey and the relationship with her father, addresses so many real-life issues; it really resonates long after the credits have rolled.
So as Winfried is the heart and Toni Erdmann is the funny bone, Ines hasn’t quite found her part yet, as she is lost in a world she only thinks fulfils her; begging the question, what is really important in life? While Ines struggles with this, we watch her and Winfried both act out of desperation and reveal their inner (or sometimes not so inner) crazy. Where Winfried adds clothes and props to make his point, Ines becomes more and more stripped back as her hard shell begins to crack leaving her vulnerable, but also more likeable as the film goes on. We see that she, like Winfried, has a little Toni Erdmann in her and when it comes out it is mesmerising; like watching something you shouldn’t be allowed to see, as if it’s just too personal. In these scenes, the uncomfortable feelings are soon overshadowed by sheer hilarity and any awkwardness is replaced by utter joy. The constant battle between father and daughter reveals that even though family can seem so different, underneath there can still be undeniable similarities; an oxymoron of sorts, but extremely compelling and honest.
The alter ego, Toni Erdmann was designed to create laughs, but in reality does so much more than that. He teaches us about what is really important in life. It is about taking the time to grate cheese and then passing on what you have learnt about grating cheese to your children – both literally and metaphorically. And when everything is getting a bit too serious, bring out your inner Toni and know that life is there to be enjoyed.
This film definitely deserves 4.5/5 sets of false teeth.