Painful, and not in a good way.
- Toni Erdmann review by AK
I had the misfortune to see this in the cinema, assured by a friend that my sides would be aching from laughter one minute, and that I'd be weeping with sadness the next. The only emotion that I felt throughout the whole film (nearly THREE HOURS) was overwhelming boredom. I have never, ever checked my watch in the cinema as often as I have while watching this, regularly thinking, "Surely something funny must happen soon?"
Basically, a middle-aged jerk decides, after his dog dies, to bond with his career-dedicated daughter, something that seems to involve donning a bad wig and false teeth and introducing himself to her colleagues as someone else. Hilarious. For the first hour they are sullen and downright rude to each other, and at times he appears to be stalking her: at one point he lets himself into her flat, walks into her bedroom and hides in her cupboard when he hears her coming -- as one does- from where he spies on her.
In another scene the daughter encourages her "lover" (I use quotation marks as there is no love evident in this relationship, as there is no emotional connection between anyone throughout the whole film) to masturbate onto some petit-fours before she eats one. Yes, it's that kind of funny. As in, it's not. The acting is low-key and monotonous, the cinematography flat and this film drags, drags, drags. Laugh? I didn't even crack a smile for it's entirety, and when it ended I felt liberated from the relentless greyness.
Fans have voiced horror at the proposed US remake. As far as I'm concerned, it can only be better. I understand Bill Murray passed on the lead after "losing" his copy of the DVD of the original. My guess is he watched the first hour and then threw it in the bin.
10 out of 14 members found this review helpful.
Won't win everyone over
- Toni Erdmann review by WS
Inevitably a divisive film, it seems to have been more of a critics' than an audience favourite. I can think of a number of reasons why many viewers will find it alienating and unapproachable.
Winfried is an oddball who doesn't readily fit into any stock-character mould. An irrepressible prankster, he lacks the swagger and bombast that you would expect to go with it – he has a sort of sadness and air of permanent defeat about him, and you can't help wondering whether his clowning is just a way of coping with some unknown tragedy or setback he has had in past. His daughter is also rather difficult to read – she comes across as highly-strung yet never fragile or vulnerable, good at coping with pressure but never really letting her guard down even when she’s with her friends.
Structurally, it feels a little messy. There are redundant scenes that fail to advance the plot or give additional depth to the characters, and I believe at least ten minutes could have been trimmed painlessly from the running time (not including the notorious “petit-fours” scene). And as one other reviewer has observed, it is competently shot but not very visually rich – for example, little thought has been put into giving it a consistent palette or “look”, unlike that other recent German hit, The Lives of Others.
It has a political dimension but lacks real political punch – I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, just that it is understated and non-didactic. We learn early on that Ines' assignment is to promote outsourcing at any oil company, implying loss of jobs and worse employment conditions for the workers - but it’s not clear why we should care. We don’t get to meet any ordinary, working-class Romanians until fairly late, then we see one man get fired but that's partly his own fault. One might also expect some incisive comments about workplace gender politics. But despite encountering some fairly mild, non-malevolent sexism, you don’t really get the feeling that Ines is undervalued just for being a woman. Maternity leave, for example, is never raised as an issue (she has no evident aspirations that way). In fact the one power relationship that struck me as particularly iniquitous was between Ines and her Romanian PA, Anca. There was something queasy about the latter's eagerness to please and willingness to follow orders unquestioningly. For instance, when Ines gets blood on her white blouse before a presentation, she gets Anca to swap tops with her, and Anca even apologises that it's not her best one.
The ending is one that can be interpreted it in different ways; it could be seen as either sad or happy depending on what mood you’re in, but either way it doesn’t seem to provide a clear-cut resolution to any of the characters’ life problems.
It is a film about a clash of cultures and world-views, and perhaps articulates a particularly German sense of unease about whether their country can be a force for good internationally. It is about what we are in danger of losing as a society and perhaps have already irretrievably lost. The idealists of the late 60s-early 70’s are sometimes dismissed as wreckers and nihilists, but Winfried’s idealism is really a species of conservatism – he values kindness, hospitality, human interaction and the dignity of the individual, all of which is, unintentionally, being put at risk by Generation X’s “pragmatic” embrace of free-market capitalism.
For me it doesn’t quite achieve “flawed masterpiece” status – I don’t know whether it’s the unevenness of the comedy, the absence of a traditional character arc, or uninspired cinematography. But still it improved on second viewing – I found more laugh-out-loud moments and I found some of the father-daughter scenes moving in spite of the kookiness of the characters and situations. And I like films that don't tie up all the loose ends - after all, real life doesn't tidy up after itself, so why should cinema?
So, three-and-a-half stars rounded up.
9 out of 9 members found this review helpful.