FilmSnap: Toni Erdmann

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Toni Erdmann is an experience like no other. A 3-hour German epic consisting of boardroom mundanity, cheap practical jokes and a sexual shenanigan involving a petit four, all riffing off a beautifully touching and complex paternal relationship.

The father is Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a divorcee adopting the goofball persona of Toni Erdmann in order to become closer to his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), both figuratively and literally. Ines herself is entrenched in the workload demanded of a business consultant, and so the antics of her father distract rather than entertain – her straight-faced demeanour at odds with Winfried’s spirited take on life. Accompanied by farce and several cringeworthy situations, we watch as their relationship evolves.

It’s a triumph of sharp scriptwriting and superb performances, an emotional odyssey with the perfect conclusion. There’s no pretension here, no melodramatic speeches or the excessive swells of a saccharine score. It’s grounded and quietly devastating, director Maren Ade aware of her actors’ ability and the strength of the dialogue, ridding the film of its background noise and thus of its superficiality. With a single embrace, Toni Erdmann profoundly communicates the complications and tribulations of a father-daughter relationship far better than any sickly sob-story could manage.

And it’s funny, too. As unorthodox a comedy as it may be, Winfried’s actions and Ines’ reactions earn plenty of laughs, and several set-pieces are teeming with awkward energy. It’s not a film that consistently provokes belly-laughs, focusing moreso on the ‘drama’ aspect of ‘comedy drama’, but Simonischek and Hüller are totally committed to their roles, and so the humour is both intensely embarrassing and remarkably believable.  

Toni Erdmann’s 3-hour runtime may seem daunting, but it allows its ingeniously realised central relationship to flourish. By the end, you won’t know whether to laugh or cry. So you do both.

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: Split

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

M.Night Shyamalan’s latest may not be the return to form that many have suggested, but at least it’s a return to watchability. It focuses on Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), an introverted teen who, along with two other victims, are abducted and imprisoned in an underground facility. Their abductor? A man with 23 different names and 23 different, competing personalities, with the 24th personality, ‘The Beast’ waiting to be unleashed…

Split is a film that epitomises Shyamalan’s career so far, laying bare his greatest qualities and exposing his worst. He manages to conjure up more than enough entertainment – a pulpy brew of ridiculous conceits and committed performances – to make the whole viewing experience worthwhile. Yet, similar to many of the flops in his filmography, Split is hampered by shoddy dialogue and bland characterisation. Bettie Buckley’s Dr. Karen Fletcher, for instance, is a character wasted on exposition, a figure for McAvoy to act against while never amounting to anything more substantial. In truth, only McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy are given enough screentime to truly function as characters. McAvoy has terrific fun in his role – it’s no Oscar-worthy performance but he’s able to act each character out with enough believability that the narrative doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own preposterousness. Taylor-Joy, in the ‘final girl’ role similar to her part in The Witch, reacts to her situation with superb measure, an enigmatic presence whose past is revealed in a series of surprisingly dark flashbacks.

As a tension chamber, Split succeeds, through murky lighting, slow-panning camera movements and a refusal to acknowledge the ridiculousness of its own premise. More impressively, it manages to explore mature themes in a wholly unique, if clumsy manner. Sadly, the film’s penchant for unnatural dialogue and abandonment of any form of characterisation leaves me with split opinions.

-Gus Edgar