Everyone is talking about the German comedy surprise of the year, which was a big hit in Cannes and even received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, Toni Erdmann is certainly different from any other German comedy. Plus, it holds a couple of surprises…
Toni Erdmann opens up in Aachen, Germany where Winfried Conradi (Austrian star Peter Simonischek) is a divorced music teacher with a very odd sense of humour and a passion for childish pranks.
When his beloved dog Willie dies, Winfried decides to reconnect with his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) and spontaneously flies to Bucharest, Romania where Ines is busy climbing the career ladder as a high‐flying management consultant.
Winfried soon realizes that Ines isn’t happy and thus tries to cheer her up. However, their opposing views to life also cause a lot tension with eventually lead to a big row and Winfried leaving again.
But Winfried wouldn’t be Winfried if he didn’t return as his hilarious alter ego: quirky CEO life coach “Toni Erdmann”…
The main location is Bucharest, Romania – but it could be anywhere. Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Yet the characters in the film always hang out in luxurious hotels, fancy clubs or neat office buildings.
In this respect, Toni Erdmann reminded me a lot about German drama Age of Cannibals (2014), which follows three business consultants travelling to impoverished and corrupt countries to close shady deals. They never leave their fancy hotels, yet face their own problems and equally harsh realities indoors.
I think that both films are trying to emphasize the well‐known cliché that more money and a higher social standing don’t usually lead to more happiness.
I must admit that for the first part of the film, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss is about. There are certainly funnier German comedies. But half‐way through this long film of 2 hours and 35 minutes, I started to realize what the message might be.
Ultimately, Winfried’s pranks seem to pay off: Ines loosens up and realizes that her own happiness may actually be more important than that of her clients.
The final verdict: If you just see the weird surface of this film, it is just as superficial as the corporate business world. But take a closer look and you will realize that Toni Erdmann is a well‐done portrayal about happiness, love and the meaning of life. Weird on the surface, but wonderful on the inside!
*** 3 out of 5 stars
An English subtitled version of Toni Erdmann is in cinemas now and will be available on DVD and Blu‐ray soon.