If one of your favorite movies of this past decade makes you cry as much as laugh, perhaps it’s worth questioning the importance of trying to define, or rather limit, a film by genre. Such is Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, an intimate, nearly three-hour-long epic of a family's deception and dysfunction amid the multinational corporate world of Bucharest, Romania. Originally tagged as a comedy — “the finest… in recent memory,” even — it premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, an auspicious venue no doubt, but hardly one renowned for leaving ‘em rolling in the aisles. And yet, speaking as someone fortunate enough to attend its world premiere, the unfamiliar sound of a discerning crowd roaring with shocked laughter, on multiple occasions, was a joyful experience to cherish.
Great films, of course, can make us feel any number of varying emotions, and often at the same time. Toni Erdmann is, unquestionably, a great film. And perhaps the combination of those hilarious set-pieces, along with the urge to get others to give it a chance, pushed people to label it a comedy: “No honestly, go see the nearly three-hour German-Austrian film! You’ll laugh like crazy!” That may be true, but it’s only part of the story. Re-watching the film, it’s fascinating how perception can shift over time. For movie lovers, it’s precisely that rare quality, to quote the lyrics sung in one of Toni Erdmann’s standout scenes, that is the greatest love of all.
Watch Now: The romantic drama Everyone Else, also directed by Maren Ade.