Monday, January 30, 2017

Toni Erdmann

In Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, Ines Conradi (Sandra Huller) is a German management consultant in Bucharest on her way to a position in Singapore where she’ll be working for Mckinsey. Her father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a music teacher whose dog has died, shows up on her doorstep unexpectedly interrupting her big pitch to an Rumanian oil company. The humor of the movie derives from the juxtaposition and disconnect between the world of corporate newspeak and authentic human feeling. Winfried dons a wig and buck teeth and portrays himself to be a life coach named Toni Erdmann. Life coach is perfect since his character is a parody of the notion of an "as if" personality. In the beginning of the movie he jokes about looking for a “substitute daughter” but he's the ultimate substitute, at one point posing as the German ambassador and introducing Ines as his assistant Miss Schnuck. There's an uproarious scene in which Ines invites her colleagues to a birthday party she's throwing for herself in which she takes off all her clothes and won’t let anyone in, unless they undress (in terms of the film's treatment of sex, there's, by the way, an uproarious earlier  scene where Ines' lover jerks off onto a petit four). Like everything else in the movie, the farce has its undercurrent of reality, mixed in with a certain tristesse, as the ploy is a thinly veiled search for an authenticity missing in a world where terms like "outsourcing" mask the price that’s paid for expediency. If there's  a teleology operant in Ade's weighty farce, it’s expressed by Winfried/Toni when he says “You have to do this or that and in the meanwhile life is passing by.” The movie is aphoristic and full of the kind of pregnant pauses that are uncommon for absurdist comedy. Winfried sets up the philosophical ramifications of the film’s anarchic brand of comedy at the beginning when he comments “How nice to do nothing and take a break.” The self effacing remark belies the disruption and chaos he will bring into his daughter’s life, but it also betokens the underlying sentimentality of his paternal desires.

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