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Toni Erdmann

Winfried is a friendly melancholic whose modus opperandi are silly practical jokes. His daughter Ines is a tough business woman, who isn’t laughing. TONI ERDMANN is a hilarious and sad portrayal of their fraught relationship.


So many possible pitfalls: a two and a half hour comedy, a father-daughter story. Father Winfried is a friendly melancholic that survives by behaving like an oaf, a potential 68er cliché who misjudges life within accelerated capitalism. His daughter Ines is a tough business woman, a potential cliché of the bitter, successful, and lonely woman. Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN discretely skates by the cliché. In any other film Ines would find something that would be redeeming to viewers: love, her conscience, a less brutal job, ideally something involving kids. Maren Ade doesn’t go that route; Ines is looking at an even tougher job by the end of the film.

This more or less elegant, sometimes clumsy, but always funny sidestep is crucial for Ade. Winfried, 60, is a nice guy who likes to have fun and travels to Bucharest after the death of his old dog to visit his daughter Ines, a tough executive consultant. She ignores him when he walks behind her with fake teeth and sunglasses as she’s doing business in a hotel lobby. Ines drags Winfried to a reception where he sticks out like a sore thumb. In the evening he’s more serious and asks “are you actually happy?”. Ines doesn’t have time for this, but when Winfried leaves, she goes to her balcony and cries. What she doesn’t know is that Winfried is still there. He reappears with a wig, ill-fitting clothes, and fake teeth as TONI ERDMANN, personality coach, during a girl’s night out with her qausi-friends.

TONI ERDMANN is incredibly funny, even if Winfried’s jokes as Toni are merely mediocre. The humor is in the prolonged situational comedy, the reactions, the insecurities. This isn’t mockery, because Ade doesn’t denounce her characters. Besides, the situation is so distressing that only humor can halfway salvage it. TONI ERDMANN also deals with existential desperation, beyond the humor. Ines has lost all hope of behaving morally, and when she tells her father why he becomes a silent, big furry animal who hangs his head. The humor in the film is the best way to recognize collective sadness.

The most successful scene at this is when “ambassador Toni Erdmann” plays the piano and Ines AKA “Whitney Schnuck” performs Whitney Houston’s song “The Greatest Love of All” in a middle-class family get-together in Bucharest. Ines gets more and more invested in the song until she screams “no matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity”, which makes it clear that she is wise to the fact that dignity is the first thing to go inthe people she is responsible for firing, and obviously in herself as well. No dignity, nowhere.

Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Deutschland 2016, 162 min
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Maren Ade
Author: Maren Ade
DOP: Patrick Orth
Montage: Heike Parplies
Distributor: NFP
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek
FSK: 12
Release: 14.07.2016




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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