VIFF 2016—Toni Erdmann is an audacious and ambitious farce of a film exploring a particularly unique and bizarre father/daughter relationship. Written and directed by Maren Ade, the German-English language film is genuinely funny throughout and a nearly three-hour journey into strange comic premises.
Peter Simonischek stars as Winfried, a sad but happy-go-lucky father, who seems to find joy and meaning in constantly pranking others. Sandra Hüller as Ines, his stressed daughter and workaholic business consultant in Bucharest, gives a stunning performance of immeasurable range. She pivots from depressively self-serious situations to farcically upbeat interactions with grace and ease. Between scenes of their everyday lives, the pair slowly indulge each other's offbeat role playing in very unexpected ways.
The delivery of jokes, humour, and emotions are deftly handled with scenes of pointed character moments and precise comic timing slowly unfolding. Some of the payoffs of the pair's shenanigans are completely hysterical and the funniest scenes in any film all year. There's a scene late in the film where Hüller belts out Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" in a random moment of exasperation that is simply incredible. She sings wonderfully and forcefully while releasing element of her underlying sadness with great energy.
Toni Erdmann is a triumph of pure comedy and family dynamics. Ade has crafted a narratively compelling epic of character and relationships. When it's not flat out funny, the film often touches and comments on our conflicting personal priorities. Simonischek and Hüller are absolutely sublime together on screen. It's a very weird yet endlessly endearing film about paternal love.
Toni Erdmann screened at the the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama series.
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