While both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman," a teacher's wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves him determined to find the perpetrator over his wife's traumatized objections.
Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife's grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors.
Winfried doesn't see much of his working daughter Ines. He pays her a surprise visit in Bucharest, where she's busy as a corporate strategist. The geographical change doesn't help them to see more eye to eye. Practical joker Winfried annoys his daughter with corny pranks and jabs at her routine lifestyle of meetings and paperwork. Father and daughter reach an impasse, and Winfried agrees to go home to Germany. Enter Toni Erdmann: Winfried's flashy alter ego. Disguised in a tacky suit, weird wig and fake teeth, Toni barges into Ines' work circle, claiming to be her CEO's life coach. As Toni, Winfried doesn't hold back, and Ines meets the challenge. The harder they push, the closer they become. In all the madness, Ines begins to see that her eccentric father deserves a place in her life. Written by
Maren Ade has created an opus which may be regarded as a universal comment on our global system where everything seems to be fine as long as economical progress is ongoing. However, we should not forget that pure progress induces dark sides as well.
"Toni Erdmann" has a great screenplay. Basically, it tells a father-daughter-story, but every sign of empathy seems to be frozen. Ines Conradi (Sandra Hüller) shows a great performance as she already did in "Amour Fou". She only lives for working and does not care much about family or emotional matters. All that counts is the progress of her career. Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) interprets a loving father who only wants to spend some time with his daughter. As Ines facade cannot be broken, he starts disturbing her perfect world of rules and manners by becoming Toni Erdmann.
The screenplay does not contain many big plot points but convinces the viewer by the development of its great characters and the intelligent and often embarrassing dialogues. The audience is trapped by the society rules of this business world. Consequently, we are feeling with Ines who is more and more irritated by her father now transformed to Toni Erdmann. He starts to shatter the stability of the system by his strange, unconventional character and jokes. The dialogues with excellent acting are so trenchant that moments of great humor are coming up.
Everybody of the business world looks strangely at Toni Erdmann when he appears but we start thinking about who is weird and crazy in reality. Is it Toni Erdmann as he is not behaving like everybody else would expect of a supposed business man? Or is it this whole community of economists which takes drugs and which feigns emotions? Maybe Eugène Ionesco can help us to find an answer.
The film itself, most of the time taking place in Romania, only rarely shows poor people as one would assume. Most of the time we just hear about the problems of a German enterprise which has to do some outsourcing. In many scenes we can see that Ines does not really care about the people around her. She is just a representative person of the company and keeps distance. Her father, on the other hand, does not care about society rules and is able to communicate in a simple, affective way with the people of this country.
Gradually Ines is influenced by the spirit of life and the philosophy of her father as she gradually throws off her mask. What does it mean to have a life where one does not have any emotional link to his colleagues? What does it mean to see progress only but to forget that man is a social being? Even when Ines is in front of her secret lover and colleague Tim, she is not able to show any emotions.
With Patrick Orth, director Maren Ade creates a light visual style which is ideally coordinated with the actor's play. We are in a world where we cannot foresee what happens next. When Toni Erdmann appears, everything seems to start trembling. The stability of our conformist and capitalistic system is threatened by the presence of only one "strange" character.
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