TIFF ’16 – Day 1: Toni Erdmann, Werewolf, The Commune, Neruda

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann (Germany, 2016): A Cannes sensation, Toni Erdmann has already been celebrated as one of the comedic achievements of the decade, even making its way into the 100 Best Movies of the 21st Century list, according to the BBC.

Guess what. It’s overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, Toni Erdmann is far from a bad movie, but the 160 minutes-long comedy doesn’t deserve such unrestrained praise.

Winfried, a music teacher and incorrigible joker, tries to reconnect with his daughter Ines, a serious businesswoman on assignment in Rumania. The prankster fails in his first attempt, so he brings out the big guns, namely his alter ego, Toni Erdmann. The character is an obnoxious bore, but at least gets a reaction from Ines, noticeably depressed but unaware of it.

The deadpan comedy of Toni Erdmann is pleasant, even sharp at times, but the length is absurd. The film aims to criticize European corporations that favor efficiency and rules over the human factor, hardly a groundbreaking topic. I could be missing something, but it wasn’t the transformative experience I was expecting. Three planets. Toni Erdmann will be distributed in Canada.

Werewolf (Canada, 2016): A terrific feature debut by Ashley McKenzie, Werewolf is a gritty look at a couple of heroin addicts trying to ‘get better’ in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. While not the most original idea, the film is interesting as it shows the two leads navigating Canadian bureaucracy as they try to attain a degree of normalcy through job assistance and low income housing.

Even though they face similar obstacles in the rehabilitation process, Nessa and Blaise have different luck. While the former follows the (often patronizing) rules imposed by people in position of authority, the latter becomes easily frustrated and lands in a vicious circle that prevents him from getting better. The relationship suffers because of this and as painful as it sounds, cutting a loved one loose is sometimes the only way to survive.

McKenzie used non-professional actors for Werewolf and the strategy pays off handsomely. Andrew Gillis and Bhreagh MacNeil give fresh and unassuming performances, captured in tight, oppressive shots. As predictable as the film’s path is, it doesn’t make it any less harrowing. Three and a half planets.

The Commune (Denmark, 2016): The Danish keep on killing it at finding new angles in family dramas. In The Commune, we see a marriage fall apart as they try to assimilate the new limits of personal freedom during the swinging 70’s. The moral of the story? Never a good idea to deal with emotional issues rationally. Three and a half planets.

Neruda (Chile, 2016): Not quite a biopic of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, this is like The Fugitive without the urgency (then it goes meta). There is a good idea at the center of Neruda, but director Pablo Larraín crams so much info, it gets lost in the shuffle. Two planets.

For #TIFF16 up-to-the-minute updates, follow me on Twitter at @jicastillo.

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