It’s perhaps hard to divorce this film from a single, rapturous screening it held at Cannes earlier this year. This mix of drama and black comedy, running 162 minutes, caught the spirit of the fest and immediately became the talk of the town. Just a few weeks ago a group of critics voted it one of the best films of the 21st century, and I’m betting almost every single person who voted for it was at that one showing.
I saw it the next day, in a room where hundred sat arms crossed. You could practically feel the resentment – “show me a masterpiece!” was the feeling exuded. “Make me laugh!”
Well, it’s probably best you go in with slightly moderated expectations, and you’re going to get a whole lot out of this lovely and charming film. Forget the plaudits already placed upon it and simply enjoy the interaction between the businesswoman Ines (Sandra Hüller) tasked with finding redundancies and her clowning around father (Peter Simonischek) whose use of “dad jokes” can’t come at a worse time.
What makes the film worth celebrating is how director Maren Ade manages to set comedy and tragedy (and even lasciviousness and surrealism) against one another. Toni Erdmann feels like many films talking to one another, a wonderful mélange of tonalities and flavours that adds spice and thrills to the work. Sometimes the pace slows down, sometimes it feels rapid, swinging from somber to silly in equal measure.
So much of the film is driven by the delight in discovery, and it’s absolutely a wonderful antidote to regular humdrum social dramas. As a flight of fancy with deep and meaningful moments of both personal and political import, it’s a film that absolutely manages to captivate. It’s just hard to do funny when you’re told you’re going to laugh, so I ask you go into Toni Erdmann as cleanly as possible (even avoiding the poster if you can), and come to it with as much of a surprise as is pulled off on the film’s protagonist. You’ll be glad you did.
Thursday September 8, 5:30pm @ Ryerson
Friday September 9, 12:15pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1