Maren Ade’s film takes on modern life, gender, family and the neoliberal bullshit of the corporate world. Ines, our protagonist and hero, works as a business consultant in Bucharest.
She is smart, driven and committed to the world in which she works and the money she makes. She lives fast, she gives a lot and she expects a lot back.
Ines deals well with the sexism she faces and Ade presents this perceptively. She refuses to be a victim of sexism and is a stronger character than her male counterparts. This is represented in how she fucks through to how she dresses; the sometimes subtler nature of women’s oppression explored here through the function of her clothing, right up until her final hilarious rejection of its constraints.
However, the contradiction is her ability to be so skilled at dealing with a world full of bullshit. In truth, her alienation lies in the fact that she has become so adept at this. It has taken over her life. She has become an extension of a corporate machine. Ines’s father unexpectedly decides to visit.
He feels the distance between them geographically and emotionally and needs to resolve some of his own internal questions.
He clearly intends to stay a short while. She finds it almost impossible to spend time with him. His attempts at practical jokes wind her up and when he leaves she is struck by huge guilt at the relief she feels.
Refusing to give up, he creates an alter ego, Toni Erdmann, starts “talking corporate” and gatecrashes Ines’s life. His ridiculous jokes and his persistence in being in her life whether she likes it or not initially drive her to distraction.
She hasn’t created and shaped her life for her father to come along and ruin it, so she challenges her father with her world. She makes a living by advising businesses on how to sack people. It is an utterly odious job and she cares nothing for the people losing their livelihoods.
Her father finds her inhumanity disturbing but he doesn’t know what to do about it. His response is to try and use humour to connect with her and break the hold this world has on her.
The result, although quite long, is a very funny and enjoyable film and actors Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek are remarkably good in it.