When the annual awards season comes around, the question of too few films made by women usually arises. A lack of ethnic diversity in the movie industry is another
The recent Oscars show these criticisms, while valid if not a call for quotas, are having an impact. African-Americans have never been more prominent as creators and participants in the most praised films, such as Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures. And let’s not forget Dev Patel in Lion.
Outside of Hollywood, these issues are less pressing. But it’s worth noting Australia’s Tanna — set in Vanuatu — was among the nominees in the foreign language category of the Oscars. But the film that triumphed in the European awards and among a large poll of international critics in Sight & Sound magazine was written and directed by an Austrian woman, Maren Ade.
Before Toni Erdmann (Madman), she had made just two features, The Forest for the Trees (2003) and Everyone Else (2009) , neither of which have been seen here to my
knowledge (they will, however, be on this year’s Film Society circuit).
Unlike many much-praised films, Toni Erdmann delivers over all of its near three hours’ length.
In interviews, Ade has said she took some 18 months to edit it down from 120 hours of filming.
The effort was worthwhile, as this is not just the most impressive film of the year, it’s likely to last as one for years to come.
A description of the plot fails to indicate its richness and variety in tracking a relationship between a semi-retired music teacher (Peter Simonischek) and his mid-30s
daughter (Sandra Hüller), a corporate consultant for international business.
He’s a practical joker, who likes to adopt an alter ego that requires false teeth and a slovenly, shambolic appearance.
By contrast, his daughter is uptight, dresses sharply and is under constant stress as she balances the misogynistic business attitudes of her male colleagues against her
desire to succeed at all costs.
She is working on assignment in Bucharest when she makes a fleeting trip home. It doesn’t work out as she is constantly distracted and on her phone.
Ade relishes these scenes of awkwardness, as each character raises the bar against the ploys of the other.
When he responds by making a surprise trip to Bucharest, he’s on a mission to “make her human” and brings his alter ego with him — he calls himself Toni Erdmann and
pops up in bars, hotel foyers and in her office posing as her “life trainer”.
She gives as good as she gets, becoming even more determined to do what she’s been hired to do, which is to make tough decisions the management won’t in laying off
workers from a failing oil-drilling business.
While having no rival alter ego, she is a performer, which comes out in her business presentations and taking her client’s wife on shopping trips that she detests.
Eventually, this becomes too much and her life unravels in series of set scenes that you will want to see again and again.
Rating: Restricted to audiences over 16. 155 minutes