Maren Ade has been the center of Oscar attention ever since “Toni Erdmann” premiered in Cannes to an audience that broke into repeated bursts of applause. Since then, the film has dazzled one festival after another on its way to a well-deserved Best Foreign Language Film nomination.
A transcendent father-daughter comedy, which runs nearly three hours and still leaves the viewer wanting more, the film escalates into a tug-of-war between a prank-loving father and his high-strung daughter (played impeccably by Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller), Ade shows off a master control of character relationships and tone. Her screenplay weaves in about a dozen different movies at once, one of which happens to be a piercing look at sexism in the workplace. But she never allows one thread to become didactic or overpowering, keeping the focus directly on her two main characters and every social and political edge built in to their arcs.
To achieve this, Ade kept her scenes open and loose so the actors could have the freedom to wrestle with their characters’ emotions. The result is a film that lives by constantly evolving relationship between the two characters.
Ade is now an official Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, something she never expected. “Toni Erdmann” is only her third feature, and she never saw the awards buzz coming, let alone an actual nomination.
The film is so vulnerable when it comes to the evolving nature of Simonischek and Hüller’s characters that it’s impossible not to feel strong personal connections woven into their design. Ade set out to make a film that explored the idea of family, and she carefully observes what happens when members break free from their usual roles.
The movie ultimately builds to two of the year’s most enthralling scenes: An impromptu karaoke performance of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” and a climactic nude birthday brunch. But capturing the “perfect” moment is never Ade’s primary focus: she’ll shoot two more versions of a scene even after she knows she’s gotten the perfect take.
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