Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell, Ingrid Bisu, Vlad Ivanov, Victoria Cocias
Written by: Maren Ade
Directed by: Maren Ade
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Language: German, English, Romanian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 162
Date: 12/25/2016

Toni Erdmann (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Teeth for Two

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Maren Ade (Everyone Else), the strange German film Toni Erdmann recently snagged the #1 spot on Cahiers du Cinema's top ten list, and looks to be the front-runner for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It's made with Ade's usual immersion into life, intense focus on character and behavior, but at its heart, it's a lot like a Mike Myers film that goes on too long.

The title character is actually Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), but he likes to put on disguises and tell humorous lies to strangers; in the opening scene he pretends to be two brothers — Toni is his alter-ego — before accepting a package from a befuddled delivery man. When his dog dies, and nearing the time of his adult daughter's birthday, he suddenly decides to drop in on her where she works in Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Hüller) is pretty and put-together while working, but her father makes her come apart at the seams, especially when he brings awkwardness to several crucial business get-togethers.

After a while, Ines decides to go along with her father on one of his jokes, and then spontaneously decides to throw a naked birthday party for herself (her father attends, dressed as a big, furry beast with a tall head). It ends at a funeral, where the daughter puts on her father's favorite fake teeth, he rushes to get his camera, and she takes them out again, looking pensive. I liked these characters, and the movie mostly avoids squeamish moments of uncomfortable comedy, but it just went on and on with no real payoff for its extreme length (2 hours and 42 minutes).

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