Review: Toni Erdmann (2016)

Review of the absurdist German-Austrian Oscar nominee.

by Marina González

How to define Toni Erdmann (2016)? Unusual, strange, surreal, absurd, crazy, tender … all as an explosive mixture but above all, is curious and also strange, maybe, this is how we can also define life.

Backed by a long career of nominations and awards, Maren Ade presents a script that seeks to make us think about the idea of happiness nowadays. With soft and light movements Ade put us in situations that do not seem to make much sense, a dreamlike and surreal universe that is created to put the characters in points of no return, which makes our society seem absurd.

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Toni Erdmann is a very personal film which cannot leave you indifferent. Behind a hilarious comedy mask, this movie hides a dramatic story about a young German woman who works hard in a consultancy company, and doesn’t have anything else in her life other than that job. She’s immersed in a man’s world; a cold and impersonal universe held under the yoke of power and money.

As the movie begins she’s hard at work and falling down a spiral, living alone in Budapest and having lost touch with herself. Her father, with a completely different vision of life, arrives to Budapest with the  aim of making her find herself again through the most absurd humor. Through this story Maren Ade tries to criticize a cruel system and proposes humor as a lifeguard.

This film might seem absurd, especially when you cannot explain the origin of certain scenes, but that seems to be in fact what gives a touch of distinction to the film. The story jumps from emotion to grief, from sadness to laughter the way it happens in life – suddenly, magically. Scenes that work like a Via Crucis for the protagonist to realize that the life she is living is neither healthy nor coherent.

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The director does not overdo the dialogue, and people only speak when absolutely necessary. The actors show much more with their eyes than words. Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is brilliant, very German; we do not see his smile even once, despite providing comedy throughout the film. He shows himself both endearing and at the same time distant. His daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), loaded with the most complicated moments of the film, emerges brilliantly.

The film can be criticized because of the rhythm. It seems slow and perhaps makes the movie a little long. Yet everything in the movie adds up perfectly. It may lose viewers because of the almost 3 hour run time, but then it’s not a film suitable for all kinds of audiences kind of public, nor is it a film in the traditional sense. Its absurd and melancholy humor – a world of sensations – are what govern the universe of Toni Erdmann. We must digest it with calmness, patience and breadth of vision. The script may feel unbalanced and lacking in sure rhythm, but by its climax it ends up surpassing expectation as Ade finally embraces the surrealistic world with its ending party sequence.


Marina

Marina González / Writer (Madrid, Spain – 1985) She graduated in Mining Engineering from the Madrid Politécnica and now works at a renewable energy company, fighting against climate change. She became a film buff during college, splitting her time between books on energy & fuels and film seminars. She began reviewing in 2014, covering the San Sebastián film festival.

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