Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
TIFF16 Film #1
Reason for Pick – Eli’s Hayes’ review out of Cannes
Toni Erdmann is a complex dance that paints the outline of the relationship between a lonely father and his career occupied daughter, who's living abroad.
I went in with the impression that this was going to be two hours and forty minutes of non-stop laughter. It isn’t. While there are frequent laugh-out-loud moments, and two scenes that sends the audience into fits, the remainder ranges from poignant to painful to awkward. Writer / Director Maren Ade isn’t afraid to linger on a shot, often cutting a few seconds after the natural beat, which gives a feeling of reality over scripted drama. She also isn’t afraid to use her generous runtime on simple scenes where nothing really happens in service of more fully defining Ines, the workaholic daughter in concealed crisis. I’m sure many will think the film would be better if the runtime was culled, but I’m not so sure, I think the time spent is necessary to truly be able to walk in Ines’ shoes as she navigates a job that expects everything of her.
During the Q and A, Ade spoke about ‘performance’ as a theme that runs through the film. This is such an interesting concept, as Ines’ life is all about her performance on the job, and our other protagonist, Winfried, Ines’ outré father, delivers a different kind of performance. His mission in life, at least at this point in his life, is to shock a smile out of those around him. Some of the most wonderful moments in the film is seeing tolerantly bemused reactions from family members whom have grown accustomed to his antics. Ines, though, finds it tiresome. That’s where Winfried decides to up his game, and Toni Erdmann is born.
Director Ade never tugs the heartstrings, and never sends in the violins. There are probably only two ‘touching’ moments in the film; they are brief, and they are completely earned. And as to the laughs, they are not only earned, but they are some of the most masterfully created pieces I’ve ever seen. There’s very little exposition in Toni Erdman, but one scene, the ‘singing’ scene, tells more about the backstory between father and daughter than two dozen pages of dialogue. Likewise, the ‘party’ scene a decisive character self-realization and metamorphoses that barely relies on a single word of dialogue.
Ade brings the film in for a gentle landing that keeps the tone of what came before, yet offers a satisfying conclusion to a journey that seems, on the surface, has only moved an inch, but under the surface a vastly greater extent.