Toni Erdmann is a heartfelt German comedy- a most baffling paradox, something, indeed, I had been taught to believe didn’t exist. How wrong I was. Watching this film was a reminder of what stereotypes are: generalisations based on prejudice, bullshit we should never believe. If anyone ever tries to tell me that Germans aren’t funny, I will direct them to this film.
The story focuses on a highly-driven business woman and her father, whose main function in life appears to be playing often long-winded and inappropriate practical jokes. A set of false teeth live in his shirt pocket ensuring that he is ever prepared for a small joke, whether to be played on his increasingly frustrated daughter, or confused passers by. His aim doesn’t seem to be that his jokes are understood or found funny, or even noticed by anyone else. His jokes are merely for himself. Here we find the deeper questions of the film: why do we bother doing what we do, what is the purpose of our lives, what makes us keep going each day, what makes it worth it? To our protagonist, it seems his daughter’s life is sorely lacking, in joy and thus in his eyes in meaning. The daughter does not seem to deny this, nor does she appear to care.
"The film has deep questions to ask: why do we bother doing what we do?"
We watch the pair’s relationship rise and fall as they come to understand each other and, by consequence, themselves. Though a sense of death permeates the film, with an ailing dog and a heart monitor as frequent references throughout, its outlook is not bleak. Instead, it compels you too to discover what you want from life, not to panic before you do, but try to enjoy each day while you search.
It was a bit too long, though this was necessary for the subtlety of the humour to be allowed time to develop and increase its impact. I just wasn’t expecting it, but I’ve told you now so you’ve no excuse.
More like this: A Man Called Ove (2015)