Skip to content

Toni Erdmann

July 15, 2017

Toni Erdmann (2016)
Director: Maren Ade
Actors: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Ingrid Bisu

Toni-Erdmann-als-Winfried-300x169.jpg (300×169)

Synopsis: Sixtysomething prankster, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), decides to pay a visit to his workaholic, corporate daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), in an attempt to inject some fun and joy in her life.

Review: Festival darling and a film garlanded with 5* reviews wherever you look, Toni Erdmann is a proficient enough exploration of its essentially one-note sociological exposé, though I find it hard to believe this euphoria is entirely objective but perhaps more a snowballing of unconscious critical consensus.

At the heart of Toni Erdmann is a fairly basic, but well explored, conceit: a sour-faced thirtysomething woman, Ines, sleepwalking into existential torpor through her submission to the tyranny of her corporate life (this is telegraphed in early sequences by her conservative, business wardrobe, her continual obsession with her mobile phone, and her perpetual unsmiling demeanour). She is then given a deceptively sentimental life-lesson by her eccentric father.

The corporate satire is decently enough conveyed, though it’s rhetorically obvious. The play on sexual politics in particular, though a salient story to tell in exposing the business world’s inherent patriarchal ethos and how it attempts to neuter femininity, is at times quite unsubtle. This transmits most obviously in the repugnant character of Tim (Ines’ “sleeping partner”) who is easily manipulated into humiliating sex acts by Ines that satirise his lame masculinity, and who acts like a chauvinistic idiot when off on drugs in a nightclub – pouring women their drinks with a champagne bottle aggressively pinned to his crotch.

Even the “epiphany” scenes in the film’s final third – the Whitney Houston karaoke moment, and the “surprising” birthday party – are perhaps a touch obvious, and feel more like that’s the change the writer wants to impact on her character at that point in time, than necessarily the more muted and realistic result of how Ines might have reacted to her father’s provocations. Unless I’m missing something, and it’s a double-bluff and a satire of viewers who will try to ascribe pat literalism to the lyrics of Houston’s paean to self-determination, to say that this moment justifies Ines’ catharsis is far too accepting of the filmmaker’s manipulations.

Perhaps the underlying issue with the film is that it’s too conceptual – more suited to a TV serial, extended comedy sketch, novel, or maybe even an academic thesis. Even the two main characters fall elusively short of three-dimensionality; ciphers of the writer’s scheming. To me, the film had most resonance in its quieter moments, away from the rhetorical game-playing. Winfried falling asleep by his ailing dog on the porch, before waking up a few hours later to note that his dog had poignantly trotted off to die alone in the wooded part of the lawn, was a more convincing testament to the film’s message of transcendence than the main “Toni Erdmann” set up of the narrative that takes place in Bucharest thereafter. (July 2017)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: