Touching comedy on the brink of despair
Much of the film unfolds in Bucharest, which is where Ines is posted, advising an oil company that wants to restructure. Winfried visits her there, uninvited. There’s no rapport between them. When he tells her business client that he wants a “substitute daughter” who will cut his toe nails, it’s impossible to tell whether he is joking. She is hugely relieved when he leaves – or seems to. She’d much rather stay in contact with him by Skype. That’s when he comes back again into her life in his Toni Erdmann persona.
This could easily have been exasperating to watch. Instead, Simonischek delivers a thoroughly winning performance, the 70-yearold Austrian actor possessing both the humour and the melancholy quality of an ageing clown. We’re never quite sure whether he is joking or in deadly earnest when he asks Ines if she is “really a human at all”.
Sandra Hüller is just as good as the businesswoman daughter with the affluent but utterly stifling lifestyle. She is the foil, the “straight man” whose earnest, selfserving behaviour makes him seem all the funnier. Neither father nor daughter is remotely happy. He is grief-stricken over the death of his pet dog, Willi. She is increasingly aware she is caught up in a rat race.
There are scenes in which the embarrassment the characters feel is palpable. Toni Erdmann both provokes this embarrassment and then helps relieve it. He has a knack of making remarks that startle and amuse his listeners in equal measure.
Of course, father and daughter are much closer in temperament than they’re letting on. Ines has an anarchic streak of her own and is touched by her father’s ability to connect with anyone.
At times, this doesn’t feel like a comedy. Both of the main protagonists teeter close to despair. However, when Toni Erdmann himself is in full flow, the hilarity follows. Ade never resorts to melodramatic clichés. Her approach is far more subtle. The punchline is always delayed and the best jokes are often the saddest ones. – The Independent
Peter Simonischek plays the titular character in Toni Erdmann.