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Thursday
Jan 12 2017

FYC: Best Original Screenplay,Toni Erdmann

by Daniel Crooke

While you will find ancient cities,hairy beasts,and moments of jaw-dropping audacity steering the rudder of its staggering runtime,you won't hear a film score in Maren Ade'sToni Erdmann– anepic of the heart and soul that depends on its screenplay to direct emotional payoffs the way many films depend on their orchestra.Set against the backdrop of a rapidly globalizing yet regionally fractured Europe,the central couple inToni Erdmannis not a pair of battle-scarred lovers or unlikely allies in combat but an estranged father and daughter,torn apart by generational attitudes in the culture war.

This central reconciliation resonates thematically now more than ever,at a time when capitalist societies across the Western world forgo compassion and human consequence in pursuit of a more profitable bottom line.In her hysterical,observant comedy,Ade crafts a squirrely,screwy rebuke to anesthetized corporate cold-heartedness but – more importantly – champions a disappearing social fabric by weaving together the frayed ends of a family unit...

"Are you really a human?"asks Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) of his daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) at the tail end of a holiday weekend in Bucharest,visiting her adopted home to see how she's living,drowning in the impersonal alienation that she and her clenched colleagues in management consulting have swapped in the place of authentic human interaction.To Ines,that's quite the accusation coming from a man who pops in a pair of plastic buckteeth whenever he feels a social situation has grown too stale.They share DNA but their CVs couldn't look less similar;he's a children's music teacher with a penchant for pranks,she's losing sleep over an outsourcing assignment for an oil conglomerate.They are both German citizens yet he belongs to a post-WWII generation that eyes dictatorial precision with accompanying suspicion and she strives to streamline her existence into a single neat track.They would agree that the best of life is found in the margins;for him,what's joyous and undiscovered,for her,what's tax-deductible.

These differences are painful to both parties.Ines cries on her balcony the next morning after he leaves for Germany,recognizing their relationship for the irreconcilable mess that it has turned out to be.But when Winfried reappears that evening in ridiculously obvious disguise – donning a rumpled brown wig and trademark fake teeth,the alter ego of "Life Coach: Toni Erdmann,"and a pledge to rescue Ines from the brink – it becomes clear that Ade intends to thread the needle in this mess of hay.

And that's a pretty accurate word for the structure ofToni Erdmann: messy.Intentionally so,at two hours and forty minutes it may seem gratuitously unkempt for Ade to explore her story in such an uncondensed fashion.But efficiency would blunt the textured humanity uncovered in every sprawling tangent she takes her characters on.If she sanded the edges of her narrative as ruthlessly as Ines' consulting firm,it would come at the expense of the swirling in-between that colors the magic of everyday existence.Toni Erdmannshuffles and ambles at the speed of life itself – a slow unfold that's full of unexpected digressions,where treasured memories aren't predetermined but found in the shag after the fact.For personal happiness to rise you must first accept the slow,sustaining grains of life – spontaneity,pausing to listen to one another,stepping outside of yourself to embrace the unknown.These are the building blocks for Ade's atypical scenes,delivering altruisms without writing a prescription.

For when you only focus on selfish concerns or inhibitions,it's easy to lose track of what you're missing along the way.And it's far more than losing touch with your loved ones.Time and time again Ade fixates on the cultural casualties that lie in the wake of multinational business dealings.The biggest mall in Europe is a larger draw for visiting businessmen and their wives than exploring an historic palace.Stuffy German suits are more concerned with hacking their Romanian counterparts for smoother business dealings than actually getting to know them.Hardworking hotel employees are shaken down for complimentary brunches after simple mistakes,justified by the Euros their company has spent there.In the corporate culture that Ade paints,kindness and empathy are Achilles' Heels instead of footbridges;no surprise that it's an aggressively male environment.Its inhabitants toss a couple trees on their skyscraper's rooftop and call it nature.Winfried accompanies Ines on a trip to an oil derrick in rural Romania and because he approaches the locals instead of viewing them as inherent inconveniences to the land's energy yield,he is treated to a free bag of apples from a member of the region's lower class.Painting eggs is painstakingly meticulous but it births a beautiful custom.It's no surprise that the cumulative impact of Ines and Winfried's repairing relationship reaches climax with akukericostume.If you run between conference rooms instead of stepping out into uncharted territory,you wouldn't even know there are flowers to smell.

And then,of course,there is the naked party.The Whitney Houston.The explosive toenail.The cheese grater.The scandalous petit-four.The replacement daughter.Dialogue that breathes,where everyone is so often lying to one another that when a character reveals their true selves you can almost hear the first cries of their rebirth.The achingly true dynamic between father and daughter who don't see eye to eye,the way we allow our relationships to rust because it's easier than being vulnerable – a relationship that resonates so deeply and personally with me that I'd swear Ade has been stalking me in a silly get-up of her own.You leave the theater in a state of reflection,incandescent from moments you'd never know to look for.It posseses a philosophy so radically simple and wise that I have reflected upon it just about every day since first seeing the film: inToni Erdmann,the only matters worth taking as seriously as life and death are life and death.

Recent FYCs:Jackie's Original Score,Lucas Hedges Supporting Actor,Lily Gladstone Supporting Actress,Moonlight's Original Score,Love & Friendship's Screenplay,The Dressmaker's Costume Design,Jackie's Production Design,Toni Erdmann's Original Screenplay,Denis Villeneuve Director

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Reader Comments (8)

Beautiful essay...

January 12,2017 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

It'd be great to see Toni Erdman nominated for Original Screenplay.This was one of the funniest films I have seen in ages.And although it is almost 3 hours long - it doesn't seem like it.Credit due to splendid direction,writing,editing and the two lead actors who are wonderful.

January 12,2017 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

This perfectly articulated why this movie hasn't left me since I saw it.At first I just really liked it,now I might consider it one of the best of the year.It's a wholly unique work.

January 12,2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris James

Totally agree.Great article!

January 12,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

It is a perfect screenplay and thank you for this article.
That Greatest Love of All scene is one of the best scenes of 2016.Period.

January 13,2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Thank you!I am in love with this movie and your article is excellent!

January 13,2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I really hope this happens

January 13,2017 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

CO-SIGN.GOD,I love this movie,and the screenplay is the sturdy foundation upon which it is built.

January 13,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

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