This film lingers in my mind, days after seeing it. It’s much more than a film about an oddball father and his ambitious management consultant daughter. Set largely in Bucharest, we witness the real and potential fall-out of neo-liberal economics, the stultifying nature of a life revolved around work and the evaporation of intimate relationships as a result. I guess it’s also about where we are with European politics too.
Ines is posted to Bucharest with a remit to improve the efficiency of a large oil company. Her work consumes her: on a quick trip home to see family in Germany, she is always on her mobile ‘phone, and back in Bucharest it is clear that her social life, and sex life is bound up with colleagues. While Ines is set on climbing the corporate ladder with a brittle intensity and lack of humour, her father has been forced to wind down into his child-like parodic self. He’s good at shrouding his inevitable melancholia, caused by the loss of his daughter to work, the loss of his marriage to her mother and then, we see the loss of his beloved dog and career. He later loses his mother who he cares for. With little to do in Germany, he appears in Bucharest to surprise – and annoy – Ines.
At first Ines does her best to welcome her father – albeit through gritted teeth. She drags him to a corporate gig under strict instructions on how to behave and later keeps him waiting for hours in a soulless shopping mall while she keeps the boss happy by entertaining a client’s wife. She more or less sends him packing back to Germany and while luxuriating in her relief at his apparent departure, he appears again by her side, with a ridiculous looking alter ego – ‘Toni Erdmann’ life coach/ambassador. Rather than outing him and sending him packing again, Ines steps back and lets her father roll: into Romanian ‘high life’ via fabrications and hilarious hyperbolic performances.
By this stage a seed has been planted in Ines. Her father’s brief visit reminded her of another her: a breezier, happier, ‘more human’ one (he asked her at one point if she was ‘actually human’). And as work cranks up even more, she begins to realise her life doesn’t fit her so well anymore. Things get a little bizarre when she holds, by accident, a naked team building party. Her father turns up in an incredible, outlandish, impossible to wear fur outfit and we witness, at long last, a hug that redeems them both.
Yes it’s long, yes the subtitles probably don’t do the German full justices, but it’s a film worth seeing.