TONI ERDMAN is a nigh on three hour cinematic humoresque, about the powerful protectiveness of the paternal and the universally acknowledged truth that parents are put on earth to embarrass their children.
The film leaves an early calling card about its deliriously laconic pace in the opening scene where a delivery man is kept waiting a wee while to have his door knocking answered.
When someone finally comes to the door, the courier is told the recipient is not him, but his brother, a person just released from jail for letter bombing offences. The courier is asked to wait while the addressee is summoned.
This black practical joke is paced and shot like a candid camera segment, the courier on tenterhooks whether his package will go boom.
The joker is Winfried, a piano teacher, played by Peter Simonischek, a guy who has refused to grow up while all around seem to have shrugged off their inner child and grown up. He cares for his elderly mother, is divorced from his wife, and estranged from his daughter, Ines.
At a family reunion, they are re-acquainted and he senses she is not happy. She is working for a multi national brokering downsizing in companies, commercially lucrative but morally bankrupt and highly pressurised. He decides she should loosen up and live a little, so he makes an impromptu visit to Bucharest, where she is working.
He does not arrive as Winfried, dutiful parent, but in grotesque disguise, with dental as anything bridgework, long, lanky wig and bargain basement wardrobe, under the alias, Toni Erdman, passing himself off to her friends and colleagues as Ines’ personal life coach.
Ines, gorgeously played by Sandra Hüller, is at first freaked out by this freaky impersonation but he remains undeterred by his daughter’s reaction, and persists in hilarious long-haul pranking.
Simonischek’s physicality – hulking, dental as anything and tonsorially irresplendent in a wig that looks like its been combed with a wrench, the height of bouffant bufoonery, is hilariously imposing, a gargantuan gremlin in Ines’ works.
In contrast, Hüller is uptight, paler in pallor than the broad palette of her prankster Papa. It’s a contrast that pitches perfectly the conflict that propels this funny, sad and poignant picture.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Oscar, TONI ERDMANN, written and directed by Maren Ade, is one of the most memorable movies you’ll see this year.