TONI ERD­MANN, drama, rated R, in Ger­man with sub­ti­tles, Jean Cocteau,

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - Pfen­nig, Toni Erd­mann

The ap­ple some­times falls far from the tree. Many a straight-laced, driven pro­fes­sional is the prod­uct of a head­long flight from hip­pie par­ents, an equal and op­po­site re­ac­tion to an un­struc­tured child­hood.

Ines Con­radi (San­dra Hüller) is a no-non­sense in­ter­na­tional busi­ness­woman, op­er­at­ing in the up­per ech­e­lons of a blood­less, male-dom­i­nated world. Her fa­ther, Win­fried Con­radi (Peter Si­monis­chek) is some­thing else en­tirely. And his al­ter ego, Toni Erd­mann, is some­thing else again.

Win­fried is a high school music teacher, a rum­pled, ag­ing slacker with an even more ag­ing mother and a ter­mi­nally ag­ing dog. He’s also an in­vet­er­ate prac­ti­cal joker. He likes to slip into wigs and fake teeth to tran­si­tion into Toni.

Ines is cur­rently based in Ro­ma­nia. When Win­fried goes to a party at his ex-wife’s to wel­come their daugh­ter for a brief visit home, she’s con­stantly on the phone. “I’ve hired a sub­sti­tute daugh­ter,” he tells her. In the few breaths she takes be­tween phone calls, she is­sues an ill-ad­vised and in­sin­cere in­vi­ta­tion to come see her in Bucharest. And he does.

As Toni, he is ev­ery cor­po­rate ca­reerist’s worst parental night­mare. Wear­ing a dark Neil Young wig and a mouth­ful of buck teeth, he pops up into her busi­ness life, of­fer­ing his ser­vices as a life coach to the cor­po­rate CEO to whom she is pitch­ing a ma­jor deal. Ines is no pushover. In the cor­po­rate world, she has to grace­fully ab­sorb a lot of sex­ist crap, like tak­ing the CEO’s wife shop­ping. But when her boss makes a snide re­mark about her fem­i­nism, she snaps, “If I was a fem­i­nist, I wouldn’t be talk­ing to you.” And in a sex­ual en­counter with a male col­league, it is she who dic­tates the ac­tion — in the process, for­ever chang­ing the way you will be able to look at pe­tits-fours.

When the jokester Toni shows up in her Bucharest world, she tries to po­litely en­dure him, then fi­nally loses her tem­per and sends him pack­ing. But like a bad he keeps turn­ing up. Ines is made of tough ma­te­rial, but his oafish, of­ten ham-handed prank­ish­ness is a re­lent­less force.

For all his in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness, Toni is deeply hu­man in a way with which his daugh­ter’s job-cut­ting, out­sourc­ing cor­po­rate func­tionary has lost touch, and his an­tics are his way of try­ing to re­claim her. Erd­mann trans­lates as “earth man,” and Toni is, at his core, a down-to earth fel­low. (Di­rec­tor Maren Ade has said that his first name is a trib­ute to the late comic Andy Kauf­man’s al­ter ego Tony Clifton.)

clocks in at a hefty two and three-quar­ter hours, which is a lot of weight for what is pre­dom­i­nantly satire. As a re­sult, it suf­fers bouts of slack time, but they are con­stantly be­ing re­deemed with bril­liant bursts of com­edy. — Jonathan Richards

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