The Oscars are this weekend – have you seen all the films, or most? I try to see them all but usually miss a few. Particularly when it comes to the best foreign film category I usually fall behind, but this year I did make it to TONI ERDMANN, the unpredictable, German/Austrian dark comedy.
Below is my friend Jeff York’s critique of TONI ERDMANN, and ELLE (Isabelle Huppert is nominated for best actress). This is the second regular feature from Jeff, creator of theestablishingshot, a movie blog about what’s going on in the film world. Jeff is also a gifted illustrator, (his self -caricature is below) and host of the movie review podcast “Page 2 Screen” for the International Screenwriters Association. He has written many scripts and received many honors.
In the recent Sight & Sound magazine polling of international film critics, do you know what film was named the best of the year? It wasn’t LA LA LAND. And it wasn’t MOONLIGHT, though that came in second. It was a German/Austrian film named TONI ERDMANN. The dark comedy is up for Best Foreign Language Film this weekend at the Oscars and is considered the favorite to take the gold. It finally opened in Chicago a few weeks back and it’s one of those films that truly stays in your head after seeing it. I find myself not only rapturously recalling the unpredictable marvel that this film is, but my own gob-smacked response to it along the way while viewing it.
I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years, easily 100 a year in the theater since my teens, let alone all the rentals, Netflix, etc. on top of them, and I am hard-pressed to think of one film among them that was as unpredictable as TONI ERDMANN. As I sat there watching it I couldn’t believe how impossible it was to predict where the film was going from one scene to the next, let alone within a specific scene. German filmmaker Maren Ade really created something utterly surprising in her writing of the film. And her direction of those enacting her words is equally amazing as the whole thing seems to be improvised, though none of it was.
This is the third major movie Ade has written and directed, but none have broken through worldwide like TONI ERDMANN. It’s taken dozens upon dozens of awards all over the globe. The film spoke particularly well to critics as it defies their ‘seen it all before’ eyes. In fact, the film truly rebels against filmmaking conformity, just as the theme of the story within the film is about thwarting conformity too.