As we grow older, we tend to distant ourselves from our past. We start disagreeing with our family on certain aspects as we lay bricks to our moral and spiritual foundations. Some minuscule disagreements are short lived but some give birth to internal aggression and perpetual dissents that stay with us. Emotions are repressed and bottled up inside yielding to loneliness in our elder lives. We start feeling ashamed of our parents, often criticizing them for their conduct and most of the times, handing them a manual on how to behave in front of our acquaintances in public gatherings. Turning the tables on our parents, they feel lonely too and they have to endure it. As old age passes by and death looms like a reality, the need to connect could never be stronger and fiercer.
When Winfried, an estranged father decides to visit his successful daughter Ines to bridge the gaps time has eventually brought in their relationship, he finds strong undercurrents of resentment. A believer in practicality of jokes, he then relies upon his aged ploys to reconnect with her. And to think that Maren Ade has constructed an awkward comedy on the above premise, one got to think of it as a gimmick. But the painfully crafted and beautifully etched out characters breathes life to the father-daughter dynamic, courtesy of some extremely proficient and witty writing.
To say Sandra Huller sticks the character with a knife will be a sore understatement. The moment she lays herself bare while performing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”, you just know that this is one of the most special cinematic moment of the year. She plays Ines with such nuanced passion that she gives Peter Simonischek a run for his money. In a gamble of false teeth and heartfelt emotions, he too penetrates Winnfried to the hilt, jumbling between his alter ego, Toni Erdmann and the real self in a whisk of an eyelid.
Toni Erdmann is a subtle and genuinely moving piece which personifies loneliness and the necessity of happiness. It has layers to be peeled and hidden underneath its humor is an aching heart, waiting to be accepted, waiting to be loved. It balances the comic with poignant and asks us to shun the existing paradigm of shame and humiliation. And then nudges us, ever so gently, to fully embrace our pitiful human condition of longing, despair and above all, the king of absurdities, love.