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A nearly three-hour-long German-subtitled comedy is not something everyone can digest at 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning, which might explain why the third and final Telluride Film Festival screening of Toni Erdmann elicited a few walkouts, but also 30 seconds of applause from the attendees who stuck around until the end.
Maren Ade‘s comedy — which was the talk of Cannes, where it debuted in May, and which Germany has since officially submitted as its entry for consideration in the best foreign language film Oscar race — centers around two people concurrently experiencing personal crises: a proudly working-class music teacher (Peter Simonischek), who is in declining health, and his daughter (Cate Blanchett look-alike Sandra Huller), a ruthlessly ambitious social climber who occupies a high-stress corporate position. When the father (a Monsieur Hulot-like character) pays an unexpected visit to his daughter (think Tilda Swinton in her Oscar-winning Michael Clayton turn) and discovers the degree to which her job has come to dominate her life, he resolves to help her learn again to enjoy life.
I believe that the Academy members who volunteer to serve on the organization’s foreign language committee, and who ultimately select the Oscar nominees in that category, will regard the film as I did, particularly after watching its unexpected musical performance that evokes mid-movie applause and its late-movie insane sequence that leaves viewers in stitches: it’s all a bit too long, but ultimately one of the all-time great father-daughter films, and every bit as much a celebration of joie de vivre as Zorba the Greek (Simonischek is hulking like Anthony Quinn), a defense of comedy as Sullivan’s Travels and a celebration of family as It’s a Wonderful Life.
Toni Erdmann, in addition to contending for the best foreign language film Oscar, where its distributor Sony Classics has a serious contender in the category every year, also has a shot at becoming the 73rd film in a language other than English to land a screenplay Oscar nom for Ade’s excellent script. Best picture and acting noms, however, strike me as a bridge too far.
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