(director/writer: Maren Ade; cinematographer: Patrick Orth; editor: Heike Parplies; music: Patrick Veigel; cast: Peter Simonischek (Winifried Conradi), Sandra Hüller (Ines Conradi), Michael Wittenborn (Henneberg), Thomas Loibl(Gerald), Trystan Pütter (Tim), Hadewych Minis (Tatjana), Lucy Russell (Steph), Victoria Cociaș (Flavia), Vlad Ivanov (Iliescu), Alexandru Papadopol(Dascalu), Viktoria Malektorovych (Natalia), Ingrid Bisu (Anca); Runtime: 162; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach; Sony PictureClassics; 2016-Germany/Austria-in German & Romanian with English subtitles)

A slow-paced quirky comedy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slow-paced quirky comedy about the estranged relationship between an uptight workaholic corporate executive, Ines (Sandra Hüller), and her practical joker eccentric ailing semi-retired elementary school teacher father Winifried (Peter Simonischek). Writer-director Maren Ade (“The Forest For The Trees”/”Everyone Else”) gives voice to how cold and humorless things are in the corporate world and how corrupt contemporary Europe is and how cold things could be in a father and daughter relationship. Though overlong and muddled, the ambitious big idea film weighs in on father-daughter relationships and the political world with strange but interesting results.The divorced semi-retired piano teacher loves to be in disguise, as he often wears wigs, puts on ghoulish makeup, dons buck teeth, and talks in various foreign accents. When his faithful blind dog Willi dies, the lonely old-timer decides to leave his suburban German home and make a surprise visit to his consulting firm strategist daughter in Bucharest. Saddened to see his daughter leading a loveless life while working for a ruthless consulting firm that makes money by getting a big oil company to outsource their workforce to cut their expenses while without caring firing the local workers. Winifried attacks his daughter’s Faustian bargain with the Devil by pretending to return home after calling her out for being not human, but instead remains in Bucharest posing as his alter ego—the scruffy looking and smooth talking Toni Erdmann. He tells her startled acquaintances that he’s the “life coach” of her big-wheel CEO client boss Henneberg (Michael Wittenborn) and tells others that he’s the German ambassador to Romania. He gets his daughter to see the joke, as at a house gathering of strangers she sings Whitney Houston’s corny song of “The Greatest Love of All.” By the final act a number of shocking comedic set pieces take place and the risk taking narrative boldly shows that the daughter and father need each other to keep from getting depressed in a world where having a sense of humor goes a long way. Despite the excellent performances by the co-stars and the inventive way of trying to mend a broken relationship, I couldn’t connect with the characters. Their embarrassing games they play to humiliate one another and their cruel methods of finding self-empowerment, left me with a cold feeling about all of them.