Touch­ing com­edy on the brink of de­spair

The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT FILM -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.