Sunday, 9 October 2016


What is humour if not a coping mechanism, and that alone? Whether it is ours or theirs is irrelevant in Maren Ade's bracing, absurd Toni Erdmann, a boisterous and generous film that utterly defies classification. It presents to us solemn tragedy, spoken through silence, and winning, ameliorative comedy, spoken, shown, performed as much for the characters in the film as for the viewers watching it. With a notable resistance to stylistic intrusion, Ade establishes a vividly plausible mise-en-scene, an environment that's wholly our own, and only builds and builds her dramaturgy upon it, tier after tier of complimentary complexity. The comedy is sporadic but overt, and never at the expense of our confidence in the film's essential realism. There's a humanistic, socialist outlook to the corporate satire, and a particular potency to it given the film's setting, largely in Romania. Ade understands the Romanian societal situation, as well as she does the dynamics between her characters - excellently defined in her subtly precise control of physical space - and even the dog who makes a brief appearance in the first act. Could you call it a first act? Does Toni Erdmann even have acts? It rambles on and on, audacious and profound and sensitive and engrossing for every last moment. By its climax, the human race has been reduced to naked beasts at the command of those it has neglected to consider in its ruthless plans for relentless development; elaborate, meaningless forms of communication are abandoned, and concise, honest declarations of emotion are made that pierce far deeper. And yet Toni Erdmann lacks resolution, closing on its most trenchant observation yet: can we really be trusted to do what's best for ourselves even once aware of it, to accept a new, yet ancient, conception of responsibility? This shocking, amazing film leaves us there, alongside its characters, united in thought.