Film review: A funny German movie

Is Toni Erdmann a great German comic film?

Toni Erdmann
Director Maren Ade
In Cinemas from February 16

A great German comic film: Those words are rarely written about German movies. Even when there are elements of comedy in a German film, it’s difficult to describe them a truly comic. Until now that is, with Toni Erdmann, which has been nominated for best foreign language film for this year’s Oscars

Toni Erdmann is not a great laugh-out-loud comedy, although there are a few of those moments. Audiences are laughing out of embarrassment at the cringe-making relationships, the surreal events and the clever dialogue. A few won’t laugh; they will hate it for being too explicit and different.

The film stars Peter Simonischek as Winfried Conradi, giving an amazing performance as a retired German schoolteacher who likes to think of himself as a joker – the sort of person who plays pranks and wears silly false teeth.

Winfried has a fraught relationship with his cool, elegant daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), who works as a management consultant in Romania. After an unfortunate encounter with his daughter, Winfried, takes on a new alter ego, in the form of Toni Erdmann inserting himself between her and her colleagues and friends – presenting himself among other things as a business/life coach and the German ambassador.

His inappropriate clowning and overacting are both endearing and embarrassing to her and us.

The film is essentially about father-daughter relationships and the way such relationships need to be negotiated and, like the problems  King Lear had with Cordelia, the film has a taught mixture of comedy, melancholy and the bizarre.

Ultimately, his intrusion breaks down her façade of cool efficiency and she seems capitulates to his weird world as first she does an impromptu rendition of Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, and then hosts a cocktail party for her staff members in which she decides to make it an all-nude affair

The film can also be seen as a commentary about modern Germany, its changing social fabric and its place in the world.