Surprise German comedy leads race to win Cannes
A touching German comedy wowed critics at the Cannes film festival Saturday, making its woman director Maren Ade the early favourite to clinch the top prize.
Ade's "Toni Erdmann" -- the first German film in nearly a decade in the race for the Palme d'Or -- was a surprise selection for the competition at global cinema's top showcase.
The 39-year-old is up against a field of 21 directors packed with veterans including Pedro Almodovar and Jim Jarmusch and big names like Sean Penn.
But the nearly three-hour-long tale of a young businesswoman whose father barrels back into her life with a clownish alter ego because he fears she's unhappy, drew cheers and tears in equal measure at a press preview.
Early reviews were rapturous.
"Maren Ade turns the competition at Cannes upside down with 'Toni Erdmann'," prestigious French daily Le Monde wrote, saying a Cannes "audience has rarely been so tickled and captivated".
Film industry bible Variety pronounced it a "humane, hilarious triumph" and London's Guardian a "slight, biting little miracle", while The Hollywood Reporter drolly called it "best 162-minute German comedy you'll ever see".
The movie stars Sandra Hueller as Ines, a consultant who has moved to Bucharest to work on a downsizing plan for a Romanian oil company.
Her father, a retired music teacher played by Austrian theatre actor Peter Simonischek, drops in one day for an unannounced visit.
Taken aback by her stressful life and the petty humiliations she faces at work, he begins showing up at her office and social events as a prankster named Toni Erdmann wearing a ridiculous wig and Austin Powers-style buck teeth.
- Riotous nude scene -
While her colleagues and friends seem charmed by Toni, Ines finds his antics cringe-worthy and presses him to get out of her hair and return to Germany.
But a series of twists keeps him on the scene and he wears down Ines' tough exterior bit by bit as she gradually rediscovers her audacious side.
Her transformation culminates in a riotous extended nude scene and an impromptu rendition of a Whitney Houston hit that drew a roar and spontaneous mid-film applause from the audience.
"Sometimes dynamics in families get a little stuck -- it's hard to break out of set patterns and fixed roles," Ade told AFP, explaining why she introduced an imaginary character to a traditional father-daughter story.
"Toni of course is kind of a fantasy about breaking out of that corset. The father wants to renew the relationship with his daughter through Toni."
"Toni Erdmann" is Ade's third film, following 2009's critical and box office hit "Everyone Else" which won her the Jury Grand Prize at the Berlin film festival and a Silver Bear for best actress for Birgit Minichmayr.
It is the first German contender at Cannes since Wim Wenders showed little-loved "The Palermo Shooting" in 2008.
Ade, who is also a successful producer, said the popularity of "Everyone Else" had allowed her to draw a bigger budget for her latest feature, letting the cast spend five months filming in Bucharest.
However Ade, one of only three women in the Cannes competition, said that female filmmakers were still at a strong disadvantage when it came to the public subsidies that make arthouse films possible in Europe. She called for a gender quota to level the playing field.
"When I started in film school it really was 50-50 (men and women) and if anyone had said that we needed a quota so women could get their films made I would have said that's impossible," she said.
"But when we're talking about public money -- particularly public broadcasters' financing -- you have to make sure it's fair. I think it would be great if we tried a quota."
© 2016 AFP