The German-Austrian comedy-drama that’s taking the world by storm-mild bemusement; Darren reviews Toni Erdmann.
Comedy is my favourite genre. Whether it’s slapstick or dark, wacky or satire, I love it all. It was really a surprise then that I went to see a Toni Erdmann, a movie that has been doing the rounds in Europe to great acclaim for its funny jokes and heart-warming message.
What might be a surprise is that I have no idea what movie everyone else was watching because heart-warming Toni Erdmann isn’t.
Mr Conradi is a local school teacher and practical joker. With a strained relationship with his workaholic daughter he tries to reconnect with her but just can’t seem to get through. When his beloved dog dies he decides to surprise her with a ridiculous alter ego to get through to her. That is the blurb I read before I sat down in a jam packed room, sitting in between two older couples, on Valentine’s Day.
But what surprised me was just how incomplete such a description was.
While that sums up the inciting incident and the overall pace of the movie, it fails to capture both the tone and the style. It’s not really about the reconnection, or if it is, it fails to do so. Their stolen moments aren’t there, of understanding and appreciating their relationship. Instead it’s more about experiencing her life, warts and all.
The whole thing may be a linear narrative story but it feels fractured, split into interminable moments. Half the scenes are awkward silences, punctuated with the knowledge that nobody knows what they’re doing, nobody in this universe is enjoying themselves. They’re just existing.
The rest is the more connected but still dissociative moments that make up the loose plot. And they’re funny, god they are – mixed in with some practical humour and almost childish sight gags. Yet these moments are stranger still. As I was watching I kept trying to think about what this was trying to say, what it was trying to achieve. Was it trying to make a statement about a family’s strained relationship? It seems so at first, before just dropping that theme around thirty minutes in and picked up another, showing the extreme kind of misogyny that women in the workplace go through. Is that what this was about? Nope, how about the decadence of the jet-setting elite and the prolific drug fuelled business deals that prop up the punishing system of global capitalism and the destruction and exploitation of EU member states for profit, at the cost of natural beauty and worker security. That must be what it’s about then, right? Nope, again it’s dropped and we come to the midlife crisis of the daughter, her breakdown of attempting to make everyone happy.
It was about this point that I got it.
It wasn’t trying to make grand statements about anything, it was just trying to give a snapshot. A moment in the life of one modern woman. The high and lows, the crushing despair of her existence and the modern world that she lives in. Each moment was just that – a moment. Barely connected in a narrative sense, each scene being wholly in the present, quick moments that jump forward slightly, with loose connections. The whole thing is seeped in this self-aware existentialism, people acting in bad faith, the absurdity of both life and work.
Toni Erdmann is funny, true and wholly depressing.
But since it is about the modern world in the West, how can it be anything but?