If there is a lesson to be learned it's that over-hyped movies often prove disappointing. This was certainly the case with "Meyerowitz" which I reviewed last week and to some extent -- but in a different way -- with the above film. Sight and Sound magazine selected this film as the best of the bunch at last year's Cannes and Germany submitted it as their entry for best foreign film at this year's Oscars. From what I had read I fully expected it to emerge the winner (which it didn't); nearly all of the reviews stressed the movie's hilarity and mile-a-minute laughs with the tagline of 'who says the Germans can't do comedy?'
Well, let me pull the wool from potential viewers' eyes -- the film is NOT funny; if anything it is a tragedy with strange comic overtones. Peter Simonischek plays divorced music teacher Winfried who is devastated when his elderly pooch dies. He realises that there is little to love in his life, despite his penchant for pranks, and that he has lost any meaningful relationship with his only child Inge, played by Sandra Huller, who is a high-flying executive with an international company in Bucharest. So he ups and books a flight to Romania and finds that he is an unexpected and unwanted visitor. His sense of fun makes him confide in her boss that he has had to hire a replacement daughter since his own child is too busy to cut his toenails. This jolly jape goes down like a lead cloud and Inge can't wait to get shot of him.
She believes that he has taken a flight home but finds that Toni Erdmann -- her father in fake buck teeth and a dark mop of a wig-- is beginning to turn up at every social and business venue, wildly claiming to be a famous life-style coach or in one instance the German ambassador to Romania introducing Inge as his secretary Miss Schnook! Of course she knows who he is even if her colleagues do not twig that this madman is her Dad. While this strange bonding exercise seems to be a failure it becomes clear that her current career has probably hit its glass ceiling, her business meetings come across as pure gobbledegook, and she shows absolutely no emotional depth when she meets with her 'secret' lover. After Toni has crashed a local Easter party and has forced her to entertain the assembled guests -- singing an actually very moving version of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" -- she escapes back to her flat where she is to host her own birthday party for her friends and colleagues.
Distracted while dressing and making the final preparations, she answers the door in her underpants and soon strips off completely, remaining totally unclothed for the remainder of the scene, as horrified or accepting guests arrive for her 'nude party' which she claims to be an exercise in team bonding. This weird gathering is then interrupted by Toni/Winfried now garbed as an eight-foot Kukeri -- a hairy Bulgarian costume meant to ward off evil spirits. After disrupting the proceedings he leaves, but Inge chases after him and when she eventually finds him, she gives him a big and heartfelt hug.
However when the film ends with them both back in Germany for a family funeral, one is left in doubt whether father and daughter are truly reconciled, especially when she announces that she has accepted a new position in Singapore which will keep her even further away from her embarrassing Dad. Both actors give fine performances -- and in Huller's case a brave one, but at 162 minutes the film is too long and too poorly paced. Yes, it's an outlandish movie and an ultimately tragic one -- but funny, definitely not.