Writer / director Maren Ade’s new film is a perversely off-kilter tale of an emotionally distant father and daughter.
After the death of his beloved pet dog, bumbling practical joker Winfried (Peter Simonischek) pays a visit to his career driven daughter Ines (Sandra Huller). Ines is working as a corporate strategist in Bucharest on a oil consultancy project downsizing and outsourcing their workforce when Winfried barges unannounced into her life. Huller captures Ines’ business like exterior and practically estranged relationship with her father perfectly as he ineffectually attempts to rekindle their relationship. Surrounded by benchmarks, targets and superficial friendships, her patience for Winfried’s well-meaning pranks and jabs at her routine lifestyle quickly ebbs away.
Seemingly giving up to return to Germany, instead Winfried re-emerges in Bucharest disguised in a tacky suit, ludicrously shaggy wig and crooked false teeth as his anarchic businessman alter-ego Toni Erdmann. Weighing in on Ines’ business engagements first as a life coach, later as German ambassador to Romania and finally as Bulgarian Kukeri spirit, his repertoire of ludicrous aliases gradually draw them closer together as father and daughter.
The undoubtable star of the production is Simonischek and he perfectly embodies the sheepishness behind Winfried’s performance art-Dad joke. However, Huller and Simonischek’s straight man / funny man combo works wonderfully together and as she eggs on Winfried’s increasingly outlandish behaviour, Ines slowly begins to understand that her father might deserve a place in her life. The emotionally sensitive farce draws to a close with an unapologetically raw rendition of Whitney Houston’s classic The Greatest Love of All confirming Toni Erdmann’s outrageous, almost Von Trier tinged (think The Idiots) appeal.
Words by Steven Brown