Friday, January 6, 2017

Movie with Abe: Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann
Directed by Maren Ade
Released December 25, 2016

Foreign films come in all kinds of varieties. Those that tend to make it over from the more than one hundred countries with film industries are often heavy, character-focused dramas or cinematic realizations of some major event in history, be it global, national, or local. Each year, there are handful of non-American films that become major talking points, in part because of their placement on (or omission from) the Oscar shortlist, which winnows more than eighty submissions down first to nine and then to five. One of the surest things for an Oscar nomination this year is the singularly strange “Toni Erdmann.”

It took this reviewer, who went in knowing absolutely nothing about this film or its plot, a good deal of time to figure out just who Toni Erdmann was. In the opening scene, we meet Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a practical jokester who gives his mailman a good scare by pretending to have just been released from prison for sending mail bombs. After his dog dies, Winfried travels from Germany to Bucharest to surprise his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a high-powered business consultant. Winfried begins appearing incessantly in Ines’ life, wearing a wig and fake teeth, introducing himself to her colleagues and friends as life coach Toni Erdmann, threatening both her livelihood at work and her sanity.

“Toni Edrmann” should not be described as a film that’s in a rush to get anywhere. When Winfried first appears in Bucharest, he tells her that he’s taken a month’s vacation, to which she reacts in horror and he laughs at having caused such a response. Yet Winfried doesn’t appear to be motivated to do anything except to prank others for his sheer enjoyment, and his far more serious daughter doesn’t seem to appreciate his affability, especially when it mixes all too closely with her work.

Austrian actor Simonschek bears a striking resemblance to James Brolin, though it’s rare to find him without his fake teeth or some disguise throughout the course of this film. He and Hüller complement each other well, with an entertaining supporting cast playing well off both of them. The film, however, proceeds along at a painfully slow and uninvolving pace, running for a daunting 162 minutes. Though it has its moments, this is far from a vivid experience. A third act scene that takes things in a new direction is just as strange as it is interesting, but it’s not enough to make this admittedly intriguing and funny movie totally bearable.


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