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First things first: this film is funny. Laugh-like-a-drain, side-splittingly, funny. At the same time, it’s also a brutally honest study of loneliness, and an acerbic takedown of global corporate culture. And, in her ability to change those disparate gears not just seamlessly, but with grace, director Maren Ade proves herself to be a master of nuance, character and storytelling.Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a corporate consultant for businesses looking to cut costs by outsourcing their jobs to countries where labour is cheaper. She is stationed in Bucharest, and visits home to Germany are few and fleeting. Her father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a part-time piano teacher with a penchant for practical jokes and a healthy disregard for the trappings of success. When he turns up on her doorstep unannounced, throws on a wig and a set of ugly false teeth, Winfried’s alter ego (Toni Erdmann) threatens to demolish the carefully constructed façade in which Ines has wrapped herself.Ade pits the two world views against each other in one excruciating scene after another, with Winfried employing everything from fart cushions to ludicrous costumes in pursuit of a connection with his daughter. The director is unafraid to push the discomfort of her characters—and the audience—to breaking point; a painfully hilarious karaoke moment and a team-building brunch embarrassing enough to make even Ricky Gervais squirm, spin the double edges of tragedy and comedy to their limits.Without stooping to cheap laughs or even cheaper emotional manipulation, Ade balances the laughs and tears beautifully. In Toni Erdmann, loneliness comes dressed in a variety of disguises and unmasking it is a painfully naked business. Anyone with a parent that annoys them, or a grown child who never visits, or a fear that their career is a sham will all-too easily relate. And laugh. Hard.
Toni ErdmannScreenings: Oct. 11, 8:30 p.m., Rio; Oct. 13, 2:15 p.m., Centre for Performing Arts.Director: Maren Ade, Germany, 162 mins.