‘Toni Erdmann’ was Germany’s submission for the Academy Awards last year, and I think it is easily one of last year’s best movies, regardless of what country it came from. It is also one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time as there were times I found myself literally laughing out loud while watching it.
Written and Directed by Maren Ade, the movie is about a father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) and his adult daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) They have a very complicated relationship, and it has gotten to a point where Winfried thinks he has ceased to know his own daughter. So he visits her in Buacharest, where she is working, and starts to stalk her, at times disguised as his alter ego Toni Erdmann. But the movie is much more than that, it i an exploration of how we as adults treat and disregard our parents. Remember when we were kids and everything our parents did embarrassed us? Well, magnify that situation hundred-fold – that’s one of the premises of this movie. You see Winfred’s character and I have to admit that in the beginning I found the character a pest, as he inserts himself into his daughter’s life coarsely. Simonischek wisely plays the character without too much charm, and as the film unfolds, we get to see what he is doing and where he is coming from, and it happens organically. Not that Hüller’s Ines is an angel, either – we see her as a very strong independent modern woman, and is also a damaged one. We see both characters heal each other.
There are a couple of situations here that are laugh out loud funny. I won’t spoil it, but they involve Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Love You,’ petit fours, and a naked brunch. This film is both enjoyable and contemplative, and depending on your mood, will hit your heart and your funny bone both. I read somewhere that Hollywood is planning to remake it with Jack Nicholson, and that idea both scares and excites me, depending on my mood.
Father-Son movies touch me more than usual, and Polish/German Director Piotr Lewandowski’s film ‘Jonathan’ hits me right to my core. Watching it felt like being punched in the stomach. Jonathan is a young man who is taking care of her father, who is terminally ill with cancer, on his second stage of chemotherapy. He has given up his life and made sacrifices to take care of his father. But his father has one big secret he hasn’t told Jonathan: he is gay. And this movie demonstrates that in order to let go of life, you have to put life in one last time.
Jonathan is played by Jannis Niewohner, and he is a most beautiful male specimen. Lewandowski knows this and photographs him in the best light – you cannot help but fall in love with his character: handsome and sensitive, caring for his ill father. When the secret is finally revealed to him, you feel his anguish, and it doesn’t hurt that Niewohner is a fantastic actor, taking you to different emotional journeys throughout the film. But ultimately, the film is about someone waiting to pass, and I don’t know if I could bear watching this film again. But if you are in the mood to make sure you still feel your heart, nothing is better.
‘Nachthelle,’ in German means ‘Bright Star’ in English. It is also a title of the film by Florian Gottschick about four people stuck in a house in East Germany. (I wonder if East Germany looks as drab as how the film photographed it) Anna Bergmann (Anna Grisebach)goes back to her childhood home with her younger boyfriend Stefan (Vladimir Burkalov) and while there, she sees her ex-boyfriend Bernd (Benno Fuehrmann) and his psychologist boyfriend Marc (Kai Ivo Baulitz) What happens next is weird – Anna asks the guys to stay for the night and a secret is revealed. And what happens after is even weirder, involving an accident with Anna, and then we see another version of Anna seeing another version of events that just took place. Maybe I am dense, but I never really fully understood what really happened, but I guess it shouldn’t matter, and maybe that’s not the whole point of the movie. Maybe it’s a German psychology thing that I do not know about (They quote Kafka) or something about the poem that the title is based on. But what is on screen is interesting enough, I guess, and Grisebach is a great engaging actress that achieves close to making you believe everything going on – even if you don’t understand it.