Monday, February 6, 2017

Best Foreign Language Film front runner, TONI ERDMANN, opens on Florida screens -- plus a word about this category's other nominees

So much has already been written -- much of it quite compelling -- about Maren Ade's latest, most ambitious and successful work, TONI ERDMANN, that TrustMovies will keep his coverage relatively succinct. For those of us who were blown quietly away by Ms Ade's first full-length film, The Forest for the Trees, and then found ourselves even more impressed by her second one, Everyone Else, her new achievement will not be seen as all that surprising.

We would have given this unique filmmaker placement in Variety's annual 10 Directors to Watch with the advent of her first film back in 2003, rather than only this year, with the success of her newest film. But then, that famous show-biz bible is not particularly known for its predictive abilities. (Better to wait until a director has garnered immense praise and won a bunch of awards before taking a chance on her.)

Ms Ade, shown at right with what will probably be the most talked about "costume" of the new millennium, has made a movie that many people are calling a comedy. Indeed, there are some wonderful, even amazing, laughs to be had during this long but increasingly meaningful and attention-grabbing film. Yet it takes perhaps a full hour before the comedy aspect of Toni Erdmann thoroughly sets in.

Even then, the immense drama that has built up between a father and daughter in their struggle to come to terms with each other, with their relationship and with their respective understandings of what it means to "do the right thing" -- this is what keeps the movie growing and churning with life and surprise.

The comedy, hilarious as it is, seems almost incidental. This has been true of all three of Ade's films. In The Forest for the Trees, we initially chuckle at the main character's attempt to "fit in" to the world; by the finale we're knocked for a loop by what all this leads to. Everyone Else has us alternately laughing and wincing at the hypocrisy of its characters, yet we never once lose contact with their humanity, strengths and weaknesses.

Toni Erdmann hands us the increasingly oft-told tale of a society in which appearance is all, soulless corporations rule, and the fight of one man against the many can make real change. And yet, as old-hat and obvious as this may sound, Ade's great skills at both writing and directing turns her tale into a rich and wondrous concoction, the likes of which you will not have previously seen.

She breathes new life into everything from the requisite sex scene (a humdinger, and for all sorts of reasons you won't expect: Petit-Fours, anyone?) to the lets-all-get-nude scene (an utter delight) to the moment in which our heroine is suddenly coaxed into singing a song and turns the scene into something special in, again, ways you just won't expect.

The two lead performances are award-worthy all on their own: Sandra Hüller (above) as that corporate-striving daughter and Peter Simonischek (below, left) as her crazy-like-a-fox dad, whose bizarre methods have their own wonderful logic and lead finally to making this film one of the most joyous and surprising adventures in growth and change that you will have seen for... well, a very long while.

After opening in December in New York and Los Angeles, Toni Erdmann -- from Sony Pictures Classics, in German with English subtitles and running two hours and 42 minutes -- will soon be seen around the entire country. Here in South Florida it opened last weekend at the Tower Theater, Miami, and will open this Friday, February 10, in Boca Raton at both the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood. To find the city and theater nearest you, simply click here and scroll down.


Even though Toni Erdmann has become the darling of the critical set (myself included, unlike my mixed feelings about that other critical darling La La Land), I must admit to being a tad surprised that the film made it, not just to the Oscar shortlist, but to becoming an actual nominee for BFLF. I'd vote for it, for sure, but it seems to me to demand -- via its considerable length and unusual "indirection" (its genre-jumping tendencies) -- too much of the usual Academy voter, who might prefer a movie such as The Salesman, which I also loved and which is far easier to follow along with and understand.

That a film such as A Man Called Ove has been included among the nominees points to the Academy's ever-continuing love of the feel-good and obvious. If Ove should win, it will set back the BFLF category by a good decade or more. I have not yet seen either Land of Mine or Tanna, so cannot comment on their worthiness -- except to say that, of late, the Academy seems to include a war-themed film (last year's A War) and an "indigenous/primitive people" movie (last year's Embrace of the Serpent), so, yes, they're doing it again this time.

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