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Toni Erdmann

The fractured relationship between a businesswoman and her offbeat dad is the focus of this German dramedy

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German director Maren Ade explores the frayed relationship between an older dad and his adult daughter in the dramedy Toni Erdmann. Ines (Sandra Huller) works in Bucharest as a business consultant, hoping to secure a deal with a Romanian oil company. Her father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), at loose ends, decides to visit her. She grudgingly takes him to a couple of company get-togethers — she has no life or relationships beyond work — and it’s awkward. Winfried is out of his depth, and an inveterate prankster whose feeble jokes fall flat in this highly prescribed world of globalized deal-making and double-speak. (It’s secondary to the main plot, but the international machinations occurring in this post-Soviet Bloc state are both fascinating and a source of sly comedy.)

So Winfried pretends to return to Germany, but instead re-surfaces in Ines’ life, as the bizarrely wigged and somewhat nutty “Toni Erdmann,” who claims to be the life coach of Ines’ boss. This gains him social entry with Ines’ colleagues, and Ines is forced to include the increasingly unpredictable “Erdmann” in her business dealings.

All of this takes place at a leisurely pace over nearly three hours. The film has been pegged a comedy, but it’s less a laugh-out-loud affair than a wry, slightly cringey take on a fractured relationship that is being repaired in an offbeat fashion. Both lead actors are good, with Huller especially adept at depicting how mechanically Ines buries so much frustration, loneliness, anger and desire beneath her all-business exterior. Watching her gradually emerge from her hard shell, spurred on by “Erdmann’s” bizarre gambits, is the film’s real smile-worthy and ultimately heartfelt pleasure.

The film is nominated for Best Foreign Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, and reputedly an American remake starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig has been greenlit. There is much about the European sensibility of this film (not to mention the forthright nudity) that will likely not translate well, so be sure to see the original now.

In English, and German, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Feb. 24. Manor

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