German language comedy. A man in his late 50’s tries to rekindle a relationship with his uptight career minded Daughter, he does this by becoming the odd ball character Toni Erdmann, what follows after that is one of the most surreal comedies of the last twelve months.
For a lot of Europeans there is a feeling that German’s don’t have a sense of humour about anything, it’s not the case at all, but we still bring it up to our German friends to wind them up. Or maybe that is just me, which would explain why my German friends don’t call me any more. This film, for some, will disprove that myth even more so. I say ‘for some’ because this two-hour and forty-five minute film is going to divide people in liking or hating the film. For me the main character of Winifried who becomes Toni Erdmann reminded me so much of my own Father that I couldn’t help and fall in love with the film. Winifried is what we’d call in Ireland as a Character, an eccentric who winds people up for the sake of it and chooses to live outside the norm. He’s getting on in life and still refuses to conform to the standard. The opening scene will explain that to you.
His Daughter Ines is the model of conformity, a straight-laced, career minded woman, who is fighting every day for her place in her business world. She works for a consultancy group in Bucharest who take the brunt of the hate from the public for other companies who want to outsource jobs. When Winifried’s old Dog dies he decides to go visit Ines in Bucharest and it doesn’t go well. They get along fine in small doses but when it comes to him interacting around her work friends and the people she has to impress day-to-day it is a different thing all together.
The film hinges on the relationship between Father and Daughter, and their chemistry together is great. When Winifried says he’s leaving Ines starts to relax, then Winifried turns up again in a daft wig and his false teeth posing as Toni Erdmann. The comedy comes from the strange behaviour of Winifried, who is trying to get his Daughter to lighten up a little and admit that she is more like him than she’d care to announce. The film suffers though from being too long, there is at least a good half hour of footage that you don’t need, I didn’t mind it at all, but I can see the case for editing it down. The two leads of Sandra Huller as Ines and Peter Simonischek as Winifried are so good and you can identify with them instantly.
There is a moment where Ines breaks down and you can see the effect of her Father coming through her in one of the most bizarre party scenes I’ve ever witnessed on-screen. It can take a lot to hang in there and keep with this film but for me it was worth it. I laughed deeply through a lot of the film, and at one of the final scenes in Bucharest I have to admit that I cried a little. The film provoked memories about my own Father who viewed the world in a similar way to Winifried, and how at the time I didn’t see the truth in his actions but looking back now as a forty-one year old man he was someone the world could do with.
The strange comedy and the way it is told made this one of those films for me, one that I may never watch again, but when I stumble on it in a few years time I’ll remember fondly and give another go. It’s worth catching in the cinema if you can. I honestly feel that there is a Winifried in all of us.
Director: Maren Ade
Writer: Maren Ade (screenplay)
Stars: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn