WHO IS TONI ERD­MANN?

A three-hour Ger­man epic could be the fun­ni­est film of 2017. No, re­ally

Empire (UK) - - PRE.VIEW - WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN

FOR­GET DAVID BRENT. If you re­ally want to squirm in your cin­ema seat, Toni Erd­mann is the char­ac­ter for you. Grin­ning be­hind a set of fake gnash­ers, pos­ing as a life­style guru or just bring­ing big-hearted chaos to his lad­der-climb­ing daugh­ter’s life, he’s like a cross be­tween Barry Humphries and a box of Christ­mas crack­ers. He’s imp­ish, deeply em­bar­rass­ing and based on real life. “I was in­spired by my fa­ther,” laughs Maren Ade. “I gave him a set of fake teeth I got at the Mu­nich premiere of Austin Pow­ers and they be­came his most im­por­tant prop. A bit like in the film, he’d put them in if he wanted to tell us some­thing im­por­tant.”

Ade’s hi­lar­i­ous, mov­ing and slightly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal film has been a dar­ling at fes­ti­vals from Cannes to Toronto, stirred talk of a US re­make, and looks set for an Os­car nod, too. Yes, Ger­many’s pick for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film will wow Acad­emy mem­bers with scenes of nu­dity, pas­try-based sex and whoopee cush­ions. Just three of the things they didn’t get with The White Rib­bon.

Erd­mann is ac­tu­ally the al­ter ego of an­other char­ac­ter in the film, sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian prankster Win­fried (Peter Si­monis­chek). Try­ing to bring a smile to the face of his hard-bit­ten off­spring (San­dra Hüller), he sur­prises her in Bucharest as she fi­nalises a ma­jor oil deal. Things, need­less to say, go badly in the most awk­ward ways imag­in­able. “There was a lot of work with Peter to make Win­fried vis­i­ble [un­derneath Toni],” re­calls Ade of her cre­ation. “He’s an am­a­teur; that’s the funny thing about him. It was im­por­tant for the film that it was be­liev­able that a real per­son was do­ing this.”

One of Toni’s sur­prises sees him in­ex­pli­ca­bly turn­ing up at his daugh­ter’s birthday party in a Wook­iee-like cos­tume. “It’s called the Kuk­eri,” she ex­plains of the garb’s folk­loric roots. “It comes from the moun­tains of Bul­garia and peo­ple wear it to scare evil spir­its away. It

was 40 de­grees in Bucharest, so we had to get a stunt­man to wear it. We put ice onto his body to cool him down.” If this all sounds a bit Pythonesque, you’d be on the right track. “The ’70s were, for me, the birth of mod­ern hu­mour,” says Ade of her in­flu­ences. “Peo­ple like Andy Kauf­man and Monty Python.” Hear­ing a Python, Terry Gilliam, was at Em­pire’s screen­ing, the di­rec­tor in­stantly turns fan­girl. “Oh my God, that’s so cool!” The ad­mi­ra­tion cuts both ways, it seems.

TONI ERD­MANN IS IN CIN­E­MAS FROM 3 FE­BRU­ARY

San­dra Hüller and Peter Si­monis­chek as Ines and dad Win­fried. Be­low: Win­fried mid-easter egg-paint­ing party.

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