film fatales #149: toni erdmann (maren ade, 2016)

Toni Erdmann is one of the most critically acclaimed movies of recent years (it's #363 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, #13 on the 21st-century list). I can see why. It's a lengthy comedy with plenty of insightful character studies, some fine acting by Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek, and many unique scenes. The story of an eccentric father and his workaholic daughter is simple on the surface, but there is nothing simple about the approach of Maren Ade, who wrote and directed the film.

And yet, I had problems with it. I'm inclined to think the problem is in me. The father's attempts to move his daughter away from a work life he sees as strangling her are well-meant, and it's easy to root for the free-spirited father in his quest. The daughter certainly seems to dislike her life. But while his actions, most of which involve ridiculous fake teeth, are funny at first, ultimately for me, I started to side with the daughter. I didn't envy the pressures her job put on her, I thought she could use some relief, but her father's antics made me hate him. I ended up wishing he would leave her alone, which I'm sure isn't Ade's intended point. Your mileage may vary, of course ... like I said, critics loved it.

what i watched

A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1946). I have never seen a movie by Jean Renoir that I didn't like a lot, and of course, The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion are among my favorite movies of all time. A first glance, A Day in the Country might seem like "minor" Renoir ... he intended it as a short to fit into an anthology film, but didn't finish it. It was finally released ten years later. But there is nothing minor about it. It plays like a warm up for Rules of the Game, and it demonstrates the usual Renoir touch for humanizing all characters without getting sappy about it. And the people connected with this one are a who's who in their own right. The story comes from Guy de Maupassant ... the female lead is played by Sylvia Bataille, a top actress who also spent many years with Jacques Lacan ... among the many assistant directors were Jacques Becker, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Yves Allégret, and Luchino Visconti (on a 40-minute movie!) ... the cinematographer was Jean's nephew, Claude ... and Jean's son Alain appears briefly (he grew up to be a professor at Cal, where I once was privileged to hear him tell a dirty joke). Can I get a whew!? All of this trivia shouldn't draw our attention away from how good A Day in the Country is. #125 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000). One of the many recommendation systems I use suggested I watch In Vanya's Room, from the highly-regarded director Pedro Costa. But I had seen one of Costa's movies, Colossal Youth, and didn't like it much. And In Vanya's Room clocks in at 170 minutes. So I opted for Code Unknown. I had seen four films by Michael Haneke, and found all but one to be excellent (especially Caché and The White Ribbon), so it was a pretty easy choice. Haneke's movies are idiosyncratic, intense, and for some people, a little cold. Juliette Binoche helps warm things up with a fine performance. Haneke chops up his scenes ... each is usually just one take, and he uses blackouts to go from one scene to the next. It can be confusing, but it works in the context of a film about modern multicultural society, where we never seem to know the code. (Haneke has said that at the time he made the movie, Austria, where he was from, still mostly used door bells and intercoms, while in France where the filming took place, everyone typed in codes to gain access.) Always intriguing even when it confuses, and Binoche makes up for a lot. #757 on the TSPDT top 1000 list, #119 on the 21st Century list. In this early scene, several main characters cross paths: