Before I watched this film today I knew very little about it. I hadn't watched the trailer, but I'd seen film posters that told me it was a comedy. I knew it's supposed to be good. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Most remarkably, it's still being shown every day at one of Stuttgart's city centre cinemas, eight months after its release. How often does that happen? However many screens a cinema has, the cinema boss would only do that if there are enough people watching it. I wonder, is it still attracting new customers, or is it the same people watching it over and over again?
After the first 15 minutes I noticed something. The film wasn't funny. I don't mean that as criticism. I mean that the film posters wrongly portrayed the film. It wasn't a comedy at all. It's a touching, sentimental story about the reconciliation between a father and daughter.
Winfried Conradi is a recently retired school teacher in Aachen. He lives alone with his dog, Willi. We aren't told where his wife is, whether he's widowed or divorced. That's not relevant. His daughter Ines works for a consulting company. They're the absolute opposite of one another. Ines is a highly motivated career woman, always well groomed and serious. Winfried walks around looking scruffy, he's always joking, and most annoyingly for Ines he carries a pair of large false teeth in his shirt pocket that he inserts to make himself look hideous.
The two rarely see one another. Ines has been living in Bucharest for a year to arrange a business deal between a Romanian oil company and a German energy company. It's a deal worth millions, and if successful it will make her career sky rocket. When Willi unexpectedly dies, Winfried decides to go to Bucharest unannounced to get involved with his daughter's life. This is highly embarrassing for her. The first time he approaches her she's with business clients, so she pretends not to know him. Later on she invites him to a business party, but he behaves badly, so she persuades him to go back home to Germany
Except he doesn't go home. The next day he returns wearing an unkempt wig, false teeth and a badly fitting suit and tie, introducing himself as Toni Erdmann, the German ambassador to Romania. Ines recognises him, of course, but she goes along with the pretence. Her friends find him eccentric but interesting. He gatecrashes business events, where he's also accepted. Ines begins to see her father through the eyes of others and realises he's not the silly old man that she's already considered him to be.
I can relate to this film on a personal level. Not all of the details are the same, but it's a close enough match. I'm not working at the moment. I used to be a high level manager and dressed appropriately smartly, but today I prefer to wear jeans and a t-shirt. My daughter Fiona has a serious office job. She has a stiff, uneasy way of talking to people with whom she's not close friends, whereas I'm bubbly and sociable. Fiona doesn't like me to meet her friends and acquaintances, because I embarrass her. What embarrasses her most is that her friends always like me, which she doesn't understand.
I enjoyed "Toni Erdmann" as a film. It's a powerful piece of drama with first rate actors, especially Peter Simonischek in the title role and Ingrid Bisu as Ines' assistant Anca.
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