Guest Review: TONI ERDMANN (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Maren Ade
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn
Runtime: 2 hr 42 minutes

Parent-child conflict is a universal theme that can be spun into an infinite variety of narrative fabrics and colours. For mothers, it is often treated as an angst-ridden melodrama while for fathers it is usually a comedy. Each relationship mix has its own tropes and conventions but the German-Austrian film Toni Erdman (2016) is far from being a genre film. It is a stream of consciousness comedic study of the father-daughter bond that is quirky, insightful and strangely moving.

It is hard to imagine a more mismatched duo: Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is the epitome of the irritating reconstructed divorced hippie father. He lives alone, seemingly half a century behind everyone else, and loves his own ‘dad jokes’ and clownish antics. When his beloved dog dies, he wants to re-connect with his corporate consultant daughter Ines (Sandra Huller), but his surprise arrival in her city is inauspicious. She barely acknowledges his presence while continuing to do the things that high-potential upwardly mobile young women do to impress and advance their prospects.

From here forward, Winfried wants to save his daughter from a shallow heartless career where firing people, ruining lives, and being fluent in corporate-babble gains respect and reward. Like fathers around the world, he slips into and out of comedic personas to embarrass offspring into self-recognition. His chief alter-ego is Toni Erdmann, alternatively a life coach, Ambassador, or businessman, depending on who Ines introduces him to. In each role, he is able to prick her conscience into seeing herself as the sterile human she has become. In one scene, he tells her boss of a venture where you can hire a daughter to replace one who has no time for you, and in another, he disarms her by asking “are you even human?”. The longer he stays, the more cracks appear in her constructed persona and a softening light peeps through.

Within this linear plotline, there are several sub-stories that work as standalone comedic vignettes. Most contribute to the narrative, but some will leave viewers wondering what on earth just happened? The emotionless sexual encounter between Ines and a colleague is fertile ground for feminist analysis; the off-key singing of “The Greatest Love of All” by Ines is both poignant and ridiculous; and the naked lunch with a hairy guest monster can only be understood through a Beckett-like absurdist lens. At two hours and forty-two minutes, this film requires faith and patience. The pace is slow and another session in the editing suite would have helped without losing what is good and interesting. Fortunately, the acting performances are excellent, with an almost cameo-like deadpan-realism that is delivered convincingly by its relatively unknown stars.

One of the striking things about this film is how not-like-Hollywood it feels. There is nothing formulaic in the narrative nor are viewers pushed into an emotional corner. It is funny, sincere, definitely original, and too long. By using humour intelligently rather than to exploit the quick gag for a loud laugh, it offers warm insight into the universal father-daughter bond that is as unorthodox as it is endearing.

4Reels

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Toni Erdmann’? Well, what did you think? 

Rental Pick: The Flowers of War (2011)



Ruth’s note: Thanks to FC’s contributor Cecilia Rusli for this review. This film is now available on DVD/Blu-ray. View more information on the production of this movie as well as the trailer.



It’s been a long time since I’ve last seen a Chinese movie at the cinema as I am getting less interested to see their martial arts movies all over again. When The Flowers of War played at the local cinemas in Indonesia, I heard good reviews about it and yes the fact that Christian Bale is one of the cast pretty much made me curious. This film tells the story of an American, John Miller (Christian Bale) who has to stay with school girls and prostitutes during attack and rape by Japanese army at Nanking in 1937.
The film with a combination of war, Asian army, and an American leading role that I remember pretty strong is The Last Samurai where I found the Japanese Ken Watanabe did a very good job with Tom Cruise. Now at The Flowers of War, Christian Bale succeeded in building a good emotion with the Chinese cast which consist of prostitutes and the students he met at the church. The conflict happens from the beginning of the film created a strong bond between the characters on the movie.
Watching The Flowers of War leaves me with mixed up emotions. I laughed at some of the hilarious scenes, and also weep a couple of times at the heartbreaking scenes. Director Zhang Yimou created these sadistic and heartless Japanese army very well that it was painful to see. Brutal and bloody actions have officially made this film not recommended for kids. Regardless of some of the silly and cheesy drama scenes, all that I felt is this emotional built up that starts from the very beginning all the way until the end of the movie as it’s wrapped beautifully. It’s not just strong at the dramatic part, I also enjoyed the war tactics with explosions and shotguns at the beginning of the movie.

Christian Bale managed to give the audience different perspective and emotions on his character throughout the film. The script surely supports it. Moreover, Bale shows that he could be paired perfectly with the Chinese actress Ni Ni for the romantic scenes and also with Tianyuan Huang for some hilarious conversations.

Paul Schneider who plays the role as John’s friend Terry did not really have much screen time in the movie. The character is plainly ordinary and he is just supporting Miller’s character as an American.

Personally I feel that The Flowers of War is worthy to be selected as China’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards 2012. It is a pretty brave film as it contains some controversies between Japanese, Chinese, and American but managed to bring a strong dramatic movie for the audience. Don’t watch it when you’re in a gloomy mood though, as this film will make you even more depressed.
– review by Cecilia Rusli
3 out of 5 reels


Has any of you seen this film? What do you think?