This is an (Austro?-)German movie shortlisted for the Foreign Oscar and filmed in Bucharest. It’s great and rated 7.6 on IMDB, with a Metascore of 93. It is also remarkably warm and positive toward Romania.
I don’t have the time to write a full review right now, but if you’re Romanian (and even if you’re not), I strongly suggest you watch it. It’s a great comedy, even though it runs a bit too long at nearly 3h (but then again, so do most European movies, almost always veering perilously close to art-house territory).
If you have visited Germany or Austria, or had some exposure to the German culture, you might have, like me, expected a harsh, quasi-hysterical, oppressing atmosphere, as suggested by the language tonality, and have, given sufficient time, discovered kindness and vulnerability, punctuated by unexpected and occasionally self-harming bouts of aggression and / or severity. Or maybe there’s nothing special about it and I am merely influenced by having watched this movie around the time of my grandmother’s convalescence and death and, after watching it, by some memories.
I’m not going to tell its story – you can find the trailer, a summary on IMDB or a detailed retelling by Brody in The New Yorker (links below).
What’s more interesting is what Brody makes of it (tny-te).
Ade’s film, at its best, shivers with fear—of the direction Europe is going now, of what Germany is becoming, of the values that are becoming common coin in Europe along with the euro, of the moral compromises and sacrifice of human dignity that come along with high-level modernization, of the profits rising to the top and the common citizens struggling to keep up. (..) The film glimpses European fractures and follies through a personal story that remains as schematic and impersonal as a position paper.
Here’s a similar view by Guardian’s Kermode (tg-k).
On one level, Toni Erdmann can be read as scathing satire on Europe, and a warning about the depersonalising results of globalisation. Yet while such socioeconomic subtexts are hardly hidden, it’s in the intimate interplay between infuriating father and insular daughter that the real fireworks occur. Ade’s genius is in refusing to allow either character to become a caricature, instead painting both in sympathetic shades of grey.
In the same TNY, a more dire situation is described and criticized in USA and its gig economy (tny-gig).
It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”
At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.
(What’s remarkable about that aforementioned story is that nobody even thinks about a bicycle – the car is always the default.)
The movie even mentions “Bucharest’s famous nightlife” and Romanians are painted with a warm yet realistic brush: the welcoming poor villager, looking up to foreigners like they are Jesus with candy, the eager “help” who is truly believes that hard work and dedication alone are noticed and pay off, the middle-management who gets that people will be fired and are willing to sell them and their own soul for climbing another shaky step up the corporate ladder.
We are not even shown a glimpse of Bucharest’s infernal traffic (possibly because the protagonists can afford to live downtown so they realistically don’t deal with it). By the way, Bucharest is far from being the best that Romania has to offer, even including its suburbs: in a recently made top, the best Romanian cities to live in for cost of living are Brasov, Cluj and Oradea (storia-top).
This year’s Oscars were heavily influenced by politics and Hollywood’s self-flagellating PC and the cleansing of any perceived racism, which resulted in the unexpected and deserved win for the best picture, but a miss for this one. Yes, comedies rarely win, but this movie has enough drama and bitter-sweet moments to qualify. I suspect the “academics” were also scared off by its 3h runtime and didn’t bother watching it.
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