Maren Ade‘s Toni Erdmann, a dry, interminable father-daughter relationship farce, screened early this evening at the Salle Debussy. People were chuckling from time to time; I was seething. It’s about a hulking, white-haired, 60ish music teacher named Winfried (Peter Simonischek) who tries to rejuvenate a distant relationship with Ines (Sandra Huller), his career-driven daughter, by parachuting into her life and pretending to be a boorish asshole named Toni Erdmann. Winfried’s strategy is to puncture Ines’ veneer by acting out a series of socially intrusive put-ons that are essentially passive-aggressive. You know going in that Ines will eventually warm to this crap but I felt more and more appalled. It got to the point that I couldn’t stand anything about Simonischek — his boorish, hostile behavior and particularly his abominable snowman appearance (jowly wattle, 2-week-old whisker beard, yellowish fake teeth, a cheap black wig he wears for a portion of the film, man boobs). I was fascinated by Huller’s life on its own terms (especially her curious relationships with certain co-workers), but the film, of course, is about Simonischek’s plan to overturn her social apple cart so he can break through. Lord knows I’ve found this or that character off-putting from time to time, but my repulsion for Simonischek was something else. I left around the 100-minute mark. I’m told there’s a great naked birthday party and an impromptu singing sequence that Huller sells for all it’s worth, but I will never even think about seeing this film again.
Imagine getting stuck in an elevator with this guy. On second thought, don’t.