Listening Closely

Why ‘Toni Erdmann’ Deserved an Academy Award

On December 15th 2016, I left the cinema with a content little smile on my face. This smile was due to Toni Erdmann. I was smiling because Toni Erdmann had just joined the ranks of my all-time team of ambivalent superheroes, which includes R.P. McMurphy as well as Lisbeth Salander and many others. And I was absolutely sure that I’d always remember Toni Erdmann with a feeling that rarely occurs: The feeling that great art had been great fun. The feeling of great work effortlessly showing you something you could not have explained yourself. Toni Erdmann (by Maren Ade) is such a piece of filmmaking – and should have taken home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is a divorced German schoolteacher with a knack for 7th-grade-performances, wacky humour and bizarre costumes, irritating his environment and especially his family. When Ines Conradi (Sandra Hüller), his childless thirty-something daughter, who fiercely pushes her career as a management consultant in Bucharest, returns home for her birthday, two worlds collide. The situation deteriorates when Winfried, who consideres Ines to be deeply unhappy, follows her to Romania. And it gets even worse, when he then invents „Toni Erdmann“, a “life coach” with silly fake teeth and a wig, introducing himself to the consultancy crowd (they take him for real) to get close to his estranged child again.

There are many, many obvious reasons why “Toni” should win an Oscar. Screenplay, terrific acting etc. etc. But I’ll name some different reasons why I’d give it an Oscar and why you should go and see it. Toni knows a thing or two about timing, dialogues and zeitgeist. Trust me.

It is, äh, “English”-speaking

The world Ines and her fellow consultancy friends, superiors and assistants live in, is English-speaking. Germans absent-mindedly praise their Romanian assistants in English, Germans talk to Germans in English. Toni explains his coaching strategies in English. The entire film is a friendly satire on how the business world makes use of its lingua franca. To hear and watch that is highly entertaining. Probably even more, if you’re a native speaker, ähem. So, members of  the Academy, I bet you WILL enjoy this Germanglish, just give it a try.

The film is also a sensitive portrayal of a multi-layered father-daughter-relationship. The storyline may sound like a cliché to some of you (unhappy career woman is rescued by her warm-hearted dad), but it’s not. Winfried’s „Toni Erdmann“ is a rebel in just as many ways as he is helpless and lost. Winfred’s post-68s-ideals clash with Ines’ capitalist cynicism, his playfulness with her world’s conformity. But Ines develops her own humour and superpowers. The film lets her turn the tables more than once and sympathizes with both characters equally.

It is truely European!

No, Toni will not teach you how the European Union works. He will not explicitly tell you about WWII and you won’t see lederhosen and sausages. But you will get to know a German schoolteacher who was socialized during the baby-boomer-era and his digital native daughter. You’ll see Romania and its people, you’ll see a Bulgarian lucky charm, you’ll see how extremely diverse Europe is, how living standards vary and what consultants do. You’ll see a bit of German Freikörperkultur (nudism) and Hausmusik (music played within a family circle, which is typically Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”) and this will teach you more than a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Most importantly: After having watched Toni Erdmann, you’ll hold Europe and the Union in higher esteem and you’ll, very quietly, celebrate its diversity.


I have no doubt that Toni Erdmann will make you laugh and it’ll also make you think. You’ll laugh until you cry, but you’ll also feel ashamed, embarrassed, sad and lonely. You’ll enjoy and regret at the same time. Paradoxically, you’ll find unexplained and inexplicable beauty in what lies in a movie and cannot be captured in pictures.
Well, that was it. I kept my fingers crossed for you, Toni. You’re on my team anyway!
Listening Closely

Cinema in January

I know, I’m a little late and February has already begun (reminding me wherever I go that Valentine’s Day is coming up…), but as all these films are still in the theatres, I’ll let you know what I watched, liked and thought of in January anyway.

After having indulged in movies and cinema in December (Christmas with loads of time the relaxing feeling to be allowed to just let yourself go), the start of 2017 was, cinematically speaking, a bit thin. In almost four weeks of January, I had been to the cinema only once. Having realized the unspeakable, I took the last week in January by the full and went to the cinema – twice. Ha! The two films were very almost on the two ends of mainstream cinema, and both of them I liked. One I’ll probably buy on Blu-Ray when it comes out. And the other one was what you all expect it to be, but you can only be sure after the jump…


©2016 Summit Entertainment.

Of course, it was LA LA LAND, the musical everybody has been talking about lately. First, I was a bit put off by the cheesy trailer, but then LA LA LAND got nominated for 14 Oscars and I have to admit that this made me curios. So here we go:

Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress, hurrying from one humiliating audition to another, in between serving coffee in a shop that lies, ironically, across the street from Warner Studios. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who has just failed to make his dream – opening a pure Jazz club in a historic site – come true. He makes end meet by playing cliché background music in snobbish restaurants. Mia and Seb (as Sebastian is sometimes called) keep bumping into each other and after several scenes of wonderfully disliking each other, they fall in love. All this happens in a swirl of singing, dancing and acting and for a while, Mia and Seb float on pure happiness: they have each and other and their dreams.

From there on (*SPOILERS*), the film explores one of its (in my opinion) main topics: Believing. In Love, in each other, and in oneself. With fresh courage drawn from Sebastian’s love support, Mia starts believing in herself again and begins to write her own one-woman-stage-play. Sebastian however pack’s up his dream and goes on tour with a popular, but in his terms, sell-out Jazz band. The question why he decides to do so, is (at least for me) an interesting one. Is it triggered by Mia talking to her mother on the phone? Does he doubt Mia really believes in him? Or does he, the man, feel obliged to protect and provide for her?

By then the film has reached its next big issue: love and ambition, true calling and real compromise, success and loss. At first glance, you could think that (just like in “Whiplash”, but way more subtle) director Damien Chazelle tells us that having a career might come with a price. But other than in Whiplash, LA LA LAND is not as simple as that. Here, it is not “love OR success“, but rather the fact that betraying yourself can lead to losing the ones you love. As soon as Seb lets his dream slip away, his relationship with Mia suffers. Spending too much time on tour is not the point, but Mia loved Seb because he believed in Jazz (Mia: “People love what other people are passionate about“). And is now betraying it and himself.

These big topics are handled in a bubblegum Hollywoodish way that is highly entertaining and self-ironic, making it possible to simply watch „LA LA LAND“ as a musical or watch a capital-M-musical making good-natured fun of musicals.

: gaudy, energetic, wilfully retro capital-M-musical with just the right amount of self-irony

Recommendation: 6.5/10.

2. Nocturnal Animals


©2016 Fade To Black Production.

It took Tom Ford eight years to make his second film and if you ask me, he surpassed himself (and “A Single Man”) with “Nocturnal Animals” – gripping story, perfect, symbolic looks. A movie crafted by a perfectionist who thought through every detail of camera and screenplay before he started. And he even delivered the best line to describe all this in 2009: “Style always has to serve substance.” I have nothing more to say, but “Bravo.” But what do you think? Too much fashion? Too much middle-class tristesse? Or even obscene?

For those who have no idea who Tom Ford is and what “Nocturnal Animals” is about, I’d recommend not to watch the rather hysterical trailer, but read this short review by Peter Bradshaw.

∑:  a perfectionist’s masterpiece, beautiful and disturbing film, glossy to dusty noir pictures, tremendously unsettling acting

Recommendation: 9/10.

3. Die Blumen von gestern


©2016 Four Minutes Film Productions.

“Die Blumen von gestern” ist ein deutsche Komödie (!) von Regisseur Chris Kraus, dem ich wahrscheinlich ewig dankbar für „4 Minuten” und „Poll” sein werde, zwei ganz wunderbare Filme. Das kann ich von “Die Blumen von gestern” nicht behaupten. Die Geschichte ist wie folgt: Holocaust-Forscher Toto (Lars Eidinger) steckt in einer tiefen Lebenskrise: Der Auschwitz-Kongress, den er seit Jahren mühselig vorbeireitet hat, wird an seinen größten Historiker-Konkurrenzen „Balthi“ (Jan Josef Liefers) übertragen, seine Ehe geht, auch weil Toto Potenzprobleme hat, komplett den Bach runter und dann wird ihm auch noch die französische Praktikantin Zazie (Adèle Haenel) aufs Auge gedrückt, deren Großmutter von den Nazis ermordet wurde, Totos Forschung bewundert und eine Affäre mit „Balthi“ unterhält.

Klingt ziemlich schräg und das soll es auch sein. Aber leider trifft der Film oft genug nicht die richtigen der schrägen Töne. Er gibt sich größte Mühe, in 120 Minuten quasi alle dicken Brocken zu behandeln: NS-belastete Familiengeschichte und Schuldgefühle, „vererbte“ Traumata, deutsche Erinnerungskultur und ihr Misslingen (Erstarren in Routinen), ein akademische Betrieb, in dem hinter scheinbarer Betroffenheit Karriere gemacht wird, Konzerne mit NS-Vergangenheit, die Häppchen auf dem Kongress sponsern etc. pp. Keine Dimension wird ausgelassen und damit übernimmt sich der Regisseur. Einiges ist sehr gut gelungen, wie z.B. der ätzend genaue Blick auf das Riesen-Ego mit Riesen-Komplexen der meist männlichen Wissenschaftler, die von der Angst besessen sind, mit Ende 40 in ihrem Ludwigsburger Institut versauert zu sein und darum auch Holocaust-Überlebende zu öffentlichen Vorträgen nötigen. Und einiges missling völlig, wird manchmal peinlich, wie z.B. die Tatsache, dass Totos Potenzprobleme von Zazie, der Enkelin eines Opfers mir nichts Dir nichts behoben werden, Zazie aber ansonsten blass bleibt und außer Ausrasten in diesem Film nicht viel darf. Ein Film mit Höhen und Tiefen, der keinesfalls verkrustet Erinnerungsmuster aufbricht, sondern den man sich getrost sparen kann.

: eher peinlicher Versuch, das Thema Holocaust neu anzugehen und nicht gelingt

Recommendation: 4/10.

Home cinema has been a little thin as well. Lately, I haven’t been watching enough of the good stuff that is out there. We should definitely change that it February. Instead of lousy TV shows or getting lost on the internet, I should rather opt for a good movie. There were days when I celebrated movies by getting dressed up like the characters or at least picking a suitable drink for each film. Well, but be patient with me: February is coming up. My picks in January were…

1. A Single Man


©2008 Fade To Black Productions.

As a preparation for „Nocturnal Animals“, Science and me watched „A Single Man“, one of Science’s favourite movies. I have to say, that I was really impressed by Tom Ford’s visual language and, as in “Nocturnal Animals”, his handling of symbols. E.g., Science and me wondered what the owl that flies by the window in the end stands for. My very sophisticated reaction was, that it’s an allusion to Hegel’s owl of Minerva, the greek Goddess of wisdom, which “spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” That means, improperly simplified, people only understand history when events already have happened. Only in the end (*SPOILERS*), the professor realizes, what makes life worth living, which isn’t tragic, but just the way it is. Have you found other examples of symbols etc.? I’d be interested to know what you’ve found.

So, all in all: Don’t expect a faithful depiction of a homosexual professor’s life in the Sixties, but rather an outstanding performance of a man’s loss and grief in achingly beautiful pictures.

Recommendation: 8/10.

2. Wait Until Dark


©1967 Warner Bros.

A Thriller from 1967 with Audrey Hepburn, who plays a recently blinded wife who got married only a short time ago and is gradually terrorised by a gang of criminals, who talk her into thinking that her newly wed husband is not what she thinks he is.

Even though it turns 50 this year, the film is gripping till the last minute. The story is plotted very cleverly. I loved the film’s use of simple means of creating tension and the flat’s atmosphere of being in a studio theatre. I read in a review “The best Hitchcock Hitchcock never made” and a fully agree to that.

Recommendation: 8.5/10.