Toni Erdmann :: A Wonderfully Unpredictable Shambles of a Man…

Cineville - Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann is the playful, ridiculous, slightly unhinged alter ego of Winfried, a playful, ridiculous, slightly unhinged schoolteacher, who I fell in love with pretty instantaneously. He is a practical joker of the wigs and false teeth variety, but he's also hugely irreverent, which is one of my most favourite things in a human being. Plus he understands the joy of play.

Winfried plays a lot. And sometimes he goes too far. In the opening scenes, for example, he has his kids sing a tasteless song about death for a fellow teacher who is retiring. He is a clown and sometimes, perhaps, a little dark. In those opening scenes, he's even wearing clownface and as the film progresses, his insistence on playing the fool becomes not just an expression of joy and impudence, but also a mask to hide behind.

The film follows Winfried (Peter Simonischek) as he takes the opportunity of his dog's death to go visit his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) in Bucharest. Ines is a very serious and rather solemn management consultant in the oil industry. Compared to her father, she appears almost utterly joyless. But not quite.

It's made increasingly clear in the first half of the film that Ines has no respect for her father. She knows that she loves him, and she might even accept that she needs him, but she has little or no respect for him.

Meanwhile, as an audience member, Toni is wholly captivating, a dynamic but distinctly dishevelled clown, a wonderfully unpredictable shambles of a man whose mission is clearly to somehow bring a little joy into his daughter's world, a soulless, casually misogynistic place of wholehearted seriousness that reveres nothing but money and is the polar opposite of everything Toni stands for.

Cineville - Toni Erdmann


For most of the film, you're just waiting for Winfried to rub off on Ines and for her to accept her father. There are lots of deliberately lingering shots that ache slightly or groan awkwardly, like Winfried waiting for a door to open, a lift to arrive or his daughter to smile.

When Ines eventually does succumb to the anarchic playfulness of her father, the results are much more spectacular than anyone could have dared hope. They feature a wonderful, ultimately rather moving rendition of a Whitney Houston song, and a surprising amount of nudity.

Cineville - Toni Erdmann


Toni Erdmann is one of those films that, the more I think about it, the more affection I feel for the two main characters. Weeks later, I even find myself reevaluating and thinking kindly of a bizarre sex scene that at the time felt unnecessary. It features a selection of small cakes, one of which has too much icing.

My one criticism of the film is that at times it slowed down and felt a little too long, but it's still a film I would definitely watch again.


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The Viewing

Back in Zaal 2 at the Eye. After missing the Expat (Immigrant) Film Night screening of this, I was very pleased to get another chance to see it with subtitles, and more pleased still to find out that the Eye screens English-titled films every weekend. This is great news. Cinema just keeps getting better here. The more I learn, the more there is to see.

This screening was pretty packed. I reckon between 80 and 100 people here. 

I have nothing more to say. See it if you get the chance. 

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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