• James Rutherford

'Toni Erdmann': An Offbeat German Comedy About Modern Familial Relations and Enduring Devotion


Movie poster for the film Toni Erdmann starring Sandra Hüller

"Toni Erdmann" (2016) is an offbeat and wholly original German comedy-drama starring Sandra Hüller as Ines, an oil industry business consultant working on an outsourcing project in Bucharest, Romania. Intent on securing a contract from a large German oil conglomerate, Ines is aghast when her father Winfried (Peter Simonischek) appears suddenly, intent on distracting her from her professional functions.

A divorced music teacher from northwest Germany, Winfried is mourning the loss of his beloved dog when he impetuously decides to surprise Ines in Bucharest. Donning a mop-top wig and hideous false teeth, Winfried playful infiltrates Ines' professional life, posing as a life coach named "Toni Edrmann" who is visiting Bucharest for the funeral of a friend's turtle. Surprisingly embraced by Ines' co-workers and clients, Winfried quickly gains popularity amidst her cohort—his incursion infuriating her at first, before she slowly comes to appreciate his playful intrusion.

Co-written and directed by German filmmaker Maren Ade ("The Forest for the Trees", "Everyone Else"), "Toni Erdmann" is a wonderfully unique and expressive tale of modern familial relations. Hüller and Simonischek are simply wonderful as the dissonant father-daughter duo, their growing accord serving as the emotional foundation for the story's increasingly madcap turns. At times borderline puerile, Ade manages to carefully sidestep over-indulgence and deliver one of the most entertaining international films of the entire decade.

 

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