Toni Erdmann - The Magical Furry Man to the Rescue

written by Janka Pozsonyi

Toni Erdmann

A chubby man in disguise, with an awkward sense of humour - that needs accessories like fart cushions, wigs and fake teeth – trying to connect with his estranged daughter through 162 minutes of playtime was this year’s biggest Cannes sensation. Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade is an overwhelming and hilarious feature, showing a fragile relationship between a father and a daughter, evoking a wide range of emotions and joy, that echoes the lives of us all.

Ines Conradi (Sandra Hüller) is a young German career woman, with big ambitions in the male dominated world of oil business, recently relocated to Bucharest. Despite her serenity, she is in a constant battle for her position at the company, the colleagues' respect, and with her own insecurity. When her embarassing and clumsy father shows up at the door, to catch up on the last few years of actual and emotional distance between them, making awkward jokes and humiliating her in front of her potential client, Ines is once again building a wall around her. Although Winfried is leaving Bucharest after the failure to communicate, his confident and mysterious alterego, Toni Erdmann appears on the scene instead and slowly starts to break down this wall, brick by brick, by putting her in situations, she can’t avoid anymore. Ines immediately recognizes his father, and by accepting Toni’s presence, she starts to play the game, that her father invented – pushing the envelope like snorting drugs in front of each other, and talking about their feelings in code to keep their relation a secret.

By meeting the Conradis and their company of acquaintances during the three hour joyride that is the film, we find ourselves noticing similarities with our own battles. Pretending to be on the phone, just to avoid conversation, making the fake-polite gesture after receiving a weird gift, or just feeling insecure at the workplace – we’ve all been there, we’ve all done that. The solidity of the characters, and their feelings towards each other – whether its embarassment, disgust, pride or just a general tease – makes us sad and happy for the same reason, the delight of recognition.

What makes the magic happen in the film, is simply this balance between the touching drama and the intelligent humour, thanks mostly to the gestures of Winfried/Toni, the uptight reactions of Ines, and the representatives of the Romanian corporate world, who are serving as an equally comic addition, as the family’s story. The slow-paced, episodic, but very rhytmic structure lets the viewer live through and enjoy all these moments, all of which, bursts out in one scene near the ending, that rules them all – a birthday party, that is pure comedy gold.

Maren Ade indeed knows people. Her directing of the actors, the meticulous shooting process, and the fine editing shows that she is familiar with their insecurity, vulnerability, the way they argue or avoid conflicts, and their endeavor to make things a little bit better with humour and acceptance.