I need to be in the right place, mentally, for a foreign language film. Partly that’s because of the subtitles. I wear verifocals and there are times when flicking from image to words to image to words can cause a sort of insanity as vertigo mixes with neck ache to create a perfect storm of head shaking and incomprehension. On the plus side I rarely fall asleep.
But mostly it’s from the need to strip my mind of stereotyping – Swedish = gloomy, French = cultural snobbery and gloomy sex and so on. So confronted by a German comedy and my hippo-campus is in overdrive.
I’m not a neanderthal – I’ve worked with Germans and they have a sense of humour that is a notch up from Benny Hill – mind you they still get ridiculous viewing figures for this every Christmas
so there is a way to go.
So off we went to see Toni Erdmann, expecting something a bit different.
Well, it was certainly different. The premise is simple – a music teacher who likes making people laugh in a slapsticky dad dancing sort of way, has a difficult time with his oh so serious management consultant daughter who is grappling with the greasiest of career poles. When he loses his beloved dog he visits her in Bucharest and is clearly upset at the life she is leaving so undertakes to lighten her up.
The danger with a comedy like this is that the jokes can sit uneasily with the plot but they avoid that here by having a skimpy plot. This is a character driven piece and the characters are believable – even Toni, aka Winifred who variously passes for a consultant, a life coach, German Ambassador (oh that that were true) and a father who hires a daughter because his is never available to him.
Some of the humour is very visual – the Bulgarian krampus thing is quite something, as is the team bonding birthday party the daughter throws; some of it takes ‘gross out’ and ups the ante – you’ll not want to have a fondant fancy again, for sure; and some feels a bit gratuitous; but the best is poignant, where the situations are commonplace but the cringing is because of our familiarity rather than because we are glad it isn’t us.
At times I felt like I was watching various versions that had been inter-cut; sometimes we seemed to jump around, especially in how the characters reacted to Toni’s excesses. And it is too long; not that time dragged especially but it felt self indulgent to draw the film over 2 hours 40 and there were too many lingering shots of Toni adjusting his comedy teeth.
Don’t expect a great philosophical discourse or revelation on the subject of the emptiness of ambition or the importance of family. Equally don’t expect Hollywood glitz and slick production. This feels a little like a student graduation piece. But there are enough places when you rock back and laugh. And that’s not a bad recommendation.
Just to digress a little we saw Toni at the Ritzy Brixton.
It has a perfectly adequate restaurant attached.
It’s one of the oldest cinemas or so the blurb tells me, built in 1911. It’s very nice. We managed to squeeze in a spicy cauliflower dish with lentils and diced liberals, served on a diversity agenda – very worthy and wholesome. I really wanted a flapjack and ice cream but apparently as we were being European we ate worthy.