Maren Ade’s Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language film from 2016 is a winning father-daughter drama with an absurdist edge.
Serial prankster and out-of-work music teacher Winfried (Peter Simonischek) doesn’t see much of his high-flying corporate strategist daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller). Winfried’s surprise visit while Ines is working on a high stakes project in Bucharest only adds further strain to their apparent estrangement, with father and daughter soon at an awkward emotional impasse. Winfried agrees to go back to Germany but ups the ante considerably when he reappears, disguised in a cheap suit, bad wig and alarmingly fake teeth, and introduces himself to her professional clique as her CEO’s life coach. Unfazed, Ines takes up the gauntlet, determined not to let her eccentric father disarm her.
Writer-director Maren Ade garnered attention to her singular talent with the acutely perceptive Everyone Else, a status anxiety-riddled relationship drama from 2009 that won the Grand Jury prize at Berlin, drawing comparisons from some critics with early 1960s dramas of alienation such as Polanski’s Knife in the Water and Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Toni Erdmann fully lives up to the daring originality and ambition of Ade’s earlier film and exceeds it in its mastery of tone and the go-for-broke performances of Simonischek and Huller. The film also marked a breakout role for Huller, recently seen in Justine Triet’s excellent Sibyl (2019), after making a strong impression in Nanouk Leopold’s Brownian Movement (2010).
Toni Erdmann is referenced in Mark Cousins’ documentary Women Make Film in chapters on Believability, Introducing a Character, Staging and Sex.