Everyone knows there’s nothing quite like a tedious epic to whet an Oscar member’s appetite during voting season.
So maybe it was with this in mind that the jury at German Films picked the 164-minute-long Toni Erdmann as Germany’s nomination for the 2017 Oscar for best foreign language film.
But, if this was the reasoning for the decision announced on Thursday in Munich, the comparisons end there.
Toni Erdmann is a comedy for a start, and such films are not supposed to be nearly three hours long – nor are they supposed to have much chance at the Oscars.
Nonetheless it was picked over several big releases with obvious international appeal, including the film adaptation of Er ist wieder da (He’s back), a novel which imagines Hitler arriving in 21st century Germany, and The Diary of Anne Frank.
The movie, directed by Maren Ade, is a worthy choice, and it is heartening to see that the jury went for something wholly contemporary rather than yet another treatment of the Nazi past.
Despite its three hours, Toni Erdmann never ceases to provoke, as it tackles one of Germany’s favourite subjects, Spiessigkeit (ordinariness/ conventionality) in a way that is light and troubling at the same time.
Father Winfried is ein alter Achtundsechziger – one of the generation of 1968 student revolutionaries – now struggling by as a children°s music teacher in a small village.
He doesn’t have much besides his dog and a penchant for putting joke teeth in his mouth at inappropriate moments.
His daughter Ines, who hasn't taken off her business suit in years, works for a consultancy firm in Bucharest.
She suffers through a visit to her superannuated father back in Germany by pretending to be on the phone to important business clients.
But when Winfried’s dog dies, he decides to travel out to Romania to see his daughter.
Finding her stuck in a world where her job is to act as cover for job cuts by large multinationals and socializing means taking her client's trophy wife shopping, Winfried takes on the alter ego of a shambolic German ambassador called Toni Erdmann to bring chaos and fun into the banality.
With the help of his false teeth and a shaggy wig, it is far too easy to punch holes in his daughter’s carefully constructed world of business connections and winebar friendships.
But the lonely Ines, despite her mortification, is receptive to the disruption. But confronting her own Spiessigkeit is no easy task and finally involves a lot of naked flesh and a Bulgarian yeti costume.
In justifying their nomination, the German Film jury described the movie as “brave and stylish in equal measure”.
“It is touching, evocative, delves into societal questions and has an unswerving creative clarity. This is how modern cinema should be!”
The short list for the Oscars will be picked in January.