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German pranksters and killer donuts tickle Cannes Film Festival

© Komplizen Film

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2016-05-15

Maren Ade has a first shot at the Palme d’Or with a funny and deeply moving father-daughter story in her acclaimed film “Toni Edermann”, while a walk through the Cannes film market reveals a new batch of outrageous horror comedies.

It’s been 36 years since an obscure Australian revenge thriller about a very angry man called Max caused a stir at CannesMarché du film, the world’s largest movie market that runs parallel with the annual film festival. The original Mad Max would go on to be the first installment in a cult trilogy that pioneered a rare blend of punk western and post-apocalyptic biker movie, kick-starting the careers of director George Miller and lead actor Mel Gibson. That exhilarating cocktail was back in full swing last year in the furiously paced, all-guns-blazing reboot “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Heading this year’s festival jury is Miller’s reward for that memorable adrenaline rush.

A walk through the film market is always a welcome break from the packed screenings and red carpet circus. This is where one hears about the latest casting announcements and exciting new projects. The market opened with a bang on Wednesday with news that Marion Cotillard and Johnny Depp would star in Brett Ratner’s new drama based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex assault scandal – though presumably they will play neither the disgraced politician nor the assaulted maid. The next day we heard Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland would team up in a road movie featuring a terminally ill couple fleeing a retirement home, directed by Italy’s Paolo Virzì.

The market is also a chance for low-budget productions with ludicrous plots and wacky titles to enjoy plenty of exposure. “Sharknado”, the improbably entertaining shark-infested tornado saga starring Ian Zeiring, is now in its fourth installment. And judging by the poster, it looks like cows get picked up by the tornado alongside the customary sharks. I didn’t see anything quite as outrageous as last year’s Indian production “The Monk Who Fucked A Limousine”, but Scott Wheeler has put in a good effort with his “Attack of the Killer Donuts”, which has enjoyed plenty of traction on social media. It reminded me of the exquisite Japanese horror comedy “Dead Sushi”, about murderous, carnivorous sushi with razor-sharp teeth.

A German oddity

Festivalgoers have so far enjoyed a copious serving of black comedy, including among the usually more serious films vying for the Palme d’Or. “Sieranevada”, by Romania’s Cristi Puiu, was full of the bleak, deader-than-deadpan humour associated with the so-called Romanian New Wave. Alain Guirodie’s “Staying Vertical” had plenty of bizarrely comical moments, and fellow Frenchman Bruno Dumont went completely over the top with his cannibalistic social farce “Slack Bay”. There were bigger laughs during the press screening of “Toni Erdmann”, Maren Ade’s third feature as director and her first shot at the biggest prize in cinema.

One of three competition entries by female directors, “Toni Erdmann” is a bittersweet, deeply moving and often very funny tale about a mischievous prankster’s attempts to reach out to his careerwoman daughter. It features stirring performances by 69-year-old Austrian actor Peter Simonichek as Winifried, a divorced schoolteacher with a passion for cheap wigs, fake teeth and whoopee cushions, and Germany’s Sandra Hüller as his daughter Ines, a sophisticated consultant who advises companies on how to cut costs by laying off workers.

German director Maren Ade (centre) attends the Cannes photocall for her competition entry "Toni Erdmann" with lead actors Peter Simonichek (left) and Sandra Hüller (right). © Mehdi Chebil

Winifried cannot understand his daughter’s world – she works too hard, no longer laughs at his jokes, and her German is interspersed with the dreary “globish” of contemporary business culture (terms like “performance”, “outsourcing”, “team spirit” and “small talk”). His attempts to laugh her out of her workaholic routine find a frosty reception, producing some almost unbearably awkward moments. But then Ines hits back with some confrontational humour of her own, in one of several delightful twists that invest the film with a marvellous complexity of meaning and feeling.

Ade creditably refrains from portraying Ines as yet another ball-breaking, childless and emotionally barren businesswoman. Though uneven (some scenes are way too long), her film is very clever and full of hilarious moments, including a typically German scene of public nudity. But it is not in any way naïve. It shows comedy and laughter are not always a panacea, and may even have a cost. “I can predict the economic impact of every single step you take,” Ines coolly says, after one of Winifried’s seemingly innocent jokes ends up costing someone his job. I wouldn't be surprised if “Toni Erdmann” picked up a prize, and both leads (Hüller in particular) have made a strong case for the actor awards.

 

Date created : 2016-05-14

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