Her Smell @ The Ross

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Elizabeth Moss as Becky Something

Director Alex Ross Perry brings to the screen frenetic energy swaddled in pain, delusion, and despair in his film Her Smell. Starring Elizabeth Moss of The Handmaiden’s Tale, Her Smell charts in five acts the rise and fall and rise of an all-girl punk band called Something She. Becky Something, played by Moss with chaotic intensity, is the leader of the band.

Her Smell is noisy and cantankerous and messy, to the point of viewer exhaustion. The usual suspects that plague these bands? They’re all there: Drug abuse, verbal abuse physical abuse, member betrayals; the manager who wants to throw himself off a cliff; the self-destruction, the distressed child, the unsung ex-husband who patiently waits for his ex-wife’s recovery, the “OMG where is she? Is she ready to go on?” moments; then the full mental breakdown and … recovery – if you could call it that.

The film unfolds in the 1990s, when the punk rock scene was all the rage. Something She is well-received by the patrons at the club called Her Smell. At times the story breaks into cinematic pieces, and cinematographer Sean Price Williams gracefully moves to put them all back together. Moss interprets Becky Something as an abrasive raptorial bird who opens her wings to isolate herself from bandmates. The band members of Something She hang on by a thread to keep the band going in spite of their fear of collapsing. Dan Stevens plays Danny, her tolerant ex-husband who shields their daughter from her mother’s destructive ways. It is clear that celebrity and stardom have engulfed Becky into its vortex, and there is nothing pretty about it! Nothing.

What is missing from the cinematic narrative, however, is the reason for Becky’s slide into self-abuse. What happened? When and how did her identity fracture? Becky’s mother, Ania, played with maternal angst by Virginia Madsden, offers no answers. Interesting to Her Smell are the behind the scenes cinematic portraits of those persons who are trapped within the quagmire of recording studios and encased in halls offstage walled in by concrete. They are always on the brink of being swallowed whole by the celebrity for whom they are paid to endorse. Hmmmm … feels like a satellite of hell!

This film is most tedious to watch; it’s like taking in cinematic poison. You will be hard-pressed to make an investment in the characters, and Becky’s redemption is too little, too late.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 6.30.01 PMHer Smell plays through May 16 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also showing at the Ross are The Mustang and Sunset.

 

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Capernaum @ The Ross

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We’ve been bombarded lately with this site of children in those, you know, very very difficult situations and you always have the feeling that they are paying the highest price for our faults.

~ Nadine Labaki, writer director

When life is neglectful and unkind, if you want to live, you will find a way out. Set in the small country of Lebanon, Nadine Labaki dramatizes the story of Zain (played by Syrian refugee Zain al Rafeea), a 12-year-old boy who sues his parents for the crime of birthing him and neglecting him and his sister, Sahar (played by Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam).

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Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil

After tragedy strikes his sister and his parents do nothing to protect her, he flees from his home and survives by his wits in the streets of Beirut. On his journey, Rahil, an Ethiopian migrant worker (played by Yordanos Shiferaw) shelters him with her infant son, Yonas (played by Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). Eventually, Zain becomes the sole caretaker of Yonas after a series of events entrap his mother.

Taking a cue from the Italian neo-realism of Vittorio de Sica’s film The Bicycle Thief, Labaki plucked her actors from the streets of Beirut and produced a most dramatic and inspirational story of rebellious youth whose story leans to Francois Truffault’s The 400 Blows of the French New Wave era in cinema. Even the title of the film finds currency in literature and biblical history.

This is a word that has been used throughout history in French literature and English literature an even Arabic literature to signify chaos … to signify disorder. Originally it’s was a biblical village and it was sort of cursed by Jesus because of the chaos that was in it.

~ Nadine Labaki

Capernaum is riveting in its delivery. Zain inhabits every chaotic scene with an intensity that you will be hard pressed not to attempt to reach for the screen to carry him. It is one thing for Zain to manage his own life but when he assumes responsibility for Yonas, the story transforms into a heart-rending journey. Christopher Auon’s cinematography interprets the unbearable day-to-day, filming against the backdrop of a nimiety of issues: extreme poverty, slums, immigration and migrant workers, children and forced labor, the separation of children from families, child brides. Zain’s nit and grit fail to alleviate the distress; every dramatization of his daily life is overwhelming.

Yes. For you to be overwhelmed by all that because this is the reality and the reality is even more overwhelming than what you see is even more ugly than what you see in the film …

~ Nadine Labaki

Audiences at Cannes were overwhelmed and in such awe that the filmmaker and her team won not only the Grand Jury Prize at the festival; in addition, they received a post-screening 6 minute standing ovation plus more applause on their way out of the theater. A bit of trivia, the events the Ethiopian refugee Rahil experiences in the film happened to the actress who plays her, Yordanos Shiferaw, in real life three days later after the shoot.

 

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Capernaum plays through February 21st at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

To Listen to the Audio Review of Capernaum @ 48:25 click here:

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Ben Is Back @ The Ross

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Holly (Julia Roberts) and Ben (Lucas Hedges)

Julia Roberts plays Holly Burns, a suburban housewife whose nineteen-year-old son Ben, played by Lucas Hedges, unexpectedly returns home on Christmas Eve morning from rehab for his treatment of opioid addiction. Much to the angst of her daughter, Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton and her husband, Neal, played by Courtney B. Vance, Holly is determined to prove that Ben is worth every ounce of her love and belief in him, even though she doesn’t trust him any farther than she can throw him.

Roberts is a gem in this movie as she strikes at the heart of every mother’s fear. She plays Holly with grit and depth, and we feel her frustration that she just may not be able to control everything in her universe since Ben is back. Written and directed by Peter Hedges, the film opens in Sloatsburg Village, a suburb of New York. The drama begins Christmas Eve night when the home is broken into and, even worse, the dog, Ponce, is taken by drug dealers. Ben laments his coming back has put the family in danger.

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Holly listens as Neal shares his concern now that Ben is back

The abduction of Ponce is cause for grave concern, and Holly curries patience as she tries to ally the fears of the smallest children, Lacey and Liam, played by Mia Fowler and Jakari Fraser respectively. Holly and Ben, then, embark on a twilight trek through their neighborhood in search of Ponce. On the ride, Ben points out a house he robbed, one where he and his male history teacher had an arrangement of sorts in exchange for drugs, and a seedy part of town where Ben once frequented.

Ben is Back joins Hollywood’s attention to suburban white teenagers and their problems with drug addiction. The camera romanticizes these teenagers; families are dramatized as fighting momma and papa bears who will stop at nothing to save the addicted child. Law enforcement is nowhere in sight, unless momma bear calls on them as does Holly in the police precinct. Even then, when she bangs on the window and wails in sheer desperation and pleads for them to arrest Ben because he has stolen her car, the police tell her to calm down and to wait her turn. Dickon Hinchliffe’s music score ensures the pull of the heartstring for wayward Ben. He’s just a teenager who went down the wrong path, and with a mother’s love and care, he will be alright. In addition, Hedges makes known and makes known clearly drug addiction affects not just the abuser but everyone within the home and those within the community. Fear and distrust find a comfortable residence not only in every space of the house but in the psyches of family members. We learn a young woman to whom he dealt drugs died of an overdose, and throughout the film, Hedges shrouds Ben in mystery.

Roberts shines in Ben is Back. She inhabits the stress of Holly’s try to control circumstances. The disappointment in the movie is Courtney B. Vance. The film underuses his talents in favor of Roberts; it’s just that obvious. His performance is an actor’s push to bring some value to a half-baked script that undoubtedly failed to meet up with his skill; it is painful to watch. When he tells Holly to come home, she says, “you take care of our children, and I’ll take care of mine.” Hedges, however, does not hesitate to ask, “Weren’t the class privilege, the breadth of love Ben received from his family and siblings, and the financial sacrifices made for him … enough?”

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In Between @ The Ross

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The In Between is a film about three Palestinian Israeli women who navigate the oppressive and tumultuous waters of a patriarchal culture in predominantly Jewish Israel. In their navigation, each woman offers support to the other even in the knowledge that her support could have dire consequences. Written and directed by Maysaloun Hamoud, the In Between is a strong filmic pulse for the issues addressed by women across lines of race and ethnicity in today’s socio-cultural political climate.

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Hamoud takes a hard line in his story, being sure to tap into the interior lives of each woman. Laila, played by Mouna Hawa, is a lawyer, who is no stranger to a party. She drinks and smokes and lets her thick curly hair run wild. Salma, played by Sana Jammelieh, adorns tattoos; she loves to deejay and to bartend. Then Nour, played by Shaden Kanboura, arrives at their apartment dressed in a hajib, ready to continue her studies in computer science. Laila and Salma baffle and intrigue her at the same time. She is the character walking across the bridge between her Muslim traditions and the free-style of her roommates. To the consternation of her fiancé, Wissam, played by Henry Andrawes, Nour finds herself caught between her promise to marry Wissam and her desire to stay with these two bold and brash women and practice her independence. The results of her decision are devastating but the bond between the women releases her to wholeness.

There is more, however. Salma reveals to her parents that she is a lesbian. They are livid and question how this could have happened to the family. Salma has to negotiate her love for family, her independence, and her sexual preference. Laila finds out, much to her disappointment, that her lover, Ziad, played by Mahmoud Shalaby, is more conservative in his beliefs about women than she had anticipated.

In Between is well cast, and each actress brings to her character a verisimilitude that strikes an honest chord with her character’s dilemma. Hamoud also is careful to depict a wave of parental emotion from disquietude to embarrassment to love and acceptance.

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What Hamoud manages to bring out in his film is that female independence is complicated by myriad factors. It does not come as easy as one would expect. You either take it and accept the consequences or abandon it in lost hope. Even the decisions we make to ensure independence do not mean a life of euphoria and dances in a field of wildflowers; there can be honest misgivings, confusion, and ambivalence. What he gives each woman, though, is the gift of each other that does not waver as she walks in between.

 

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The In Between plays through March 15 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing through March 15 at the Ross is Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio film about a woman who struggles to safeguard her chosen life after the death of her lover.

 

Faces Places @ The Ross

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JR and Agnés Varda

Do you remember that trusty old photo album? You know that book with plastic pockets wherein you placed the photos you waited about a week for them to be developed? Do you remember the anticipation of driving up to the photomat or walking up to the counter in the drugstore and going through every photo all while the cashier waited patiently for you to pay for them? You didn’t care because as you leaned on the counter perusing each photo, certain emotions came over you. Those 3×5 cards bore witness to particular moments in your life. Those photos told a story.

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The Town’s Postman

Street Artist JR and Agnés Varda feature the art of taking photos of faces and places and developing them on gigantic sheets of photo paper for all of their subjects to see in the moment. In their documentary entitled Faces and Places, Varda, a co-founder of French New Wave Cinema of the late 50s, and JR travel around the French countryside together in a van equipped with a camera seeking out the everyday ordinary. Daily life of working class people is the main aspect of this documentary, and Varda and JR invite audiences into the lively conversations each one has with them before the photo is taken. Why? Because these dialogues lay bare the histories of faces and places.

In the film, ordinary places and things such as crates in an industrial yard, fish at the market, feet and eyes and trains and water towers capture the attention of Varda and JR. One of the most amazing scenes are those of an area of abandoned row houses wherein the coal-mining families lived. These row houses are to be demolished but one lone resident on the row, Jeanne, refuses to leave. The retired miners come out to the area and tell of the dangers and hazards they endured as they worked the daily grind in the mines. Pictures are taken, then JR and his crew plaster these larger-than-life visuals of the miners and Jeanne, on the frontice piece of the brick homes. Autobiography along with the visual coalesce to offer testimony to a community once teeming with families, relatives, and friends. People once lived here.

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The Coal Miners on Brick

I enjoyed seeing this young man and octogenarian finding solace in each other’s company and in their art. The strolls on the cold windy beaches, the conversations in the café, and the interactions with ordinary people, the patience, the comfort level JR and Agnés have with each other are refreshing, especially in this pop culture that is saturated with and salivates over youth.

Faces Places reminds us that the everyday ordinary of working-class people—from the postman to the truck driver to the goat farmer to the miner–all have stories to tell us if we take time to listen. But JR and Agnés privilege particular faces their documentary. No people of color are interviewed. The extent of JR’s and Agnés’s curiosity begins and ends, then, with French white citizens. On one excursion, an interracial couple is included in the project but the wife of African descent is silent. She sits without emotion as if to look into space as her husband chatters on and her children play around her. Why? Is there a political statement both filmmakers are trying to push to the viewing audience?

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The Shape of Water @ The Ross

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The Asset (Doug Jones)

Guillermo del Toro’s newest cinematic endeavor, The Shape of Water, entices audiences to suspend its disbelief and nestle into his fairytale love story between … well, a beauty and a beast. Film goers will recognize other references to films such as Splash, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, E.T., and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I’d even go so far as to include Cinderella and The Elephant Man in the line-up of film references. In The Shape of Water, del Toro delves into the ‘what if’ of romance as he carefully dramatizes the fervent attraction of a lowly Cinderella-esque character to an amphibian creature called The Asset, played by Doug Jones. The Asset has been captured from the amazon in South America to be examined for its ability to endure extreme situations.

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Elisa (Sally Hawkins) on her way to work

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute who lives alone above a movie theater and who is employed as a janitor at an underground science hub in Baltimore, Maryland. The time is 1962. Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, is Elisa’s friend and confidante. Giles, played by Richard Jennings, is an unemployed gay advertising artist who also lives alone in the same apartment building as Elisa. He introduces us to our heroine as the princess without a voice. It is to Giles that Elisa reveals in sign language the reasons for her attraction to The Asset.

Elisa and Zelda labor in the isolated underground lab facility in chilly and bitter conditions. The scientists and lab technicians in their white coats shore up the echo as they walk the halls to their appointments. There is no joy in this environment; only a clipboard of statistics, computers spewing data, and, even more terrifying, creature hatred and abuse inhabit this world.

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Elisa and her friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer)

The United States is in a race against the Russians to develop its space program. The creature, or The Asset, is the key to the space program’s advancement.

Yet in Elisa’s world, love intervenes. Not only romantic love but love for your friends and associates who believe in those time honored civil rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Shape of Water plays through February 8 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene @ The Ross

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I am sure you have a story to tell of the first time you saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I am sure you have a story to tell of your response to the notorious shower scene in that film. My own experience is that it messed with my sense of safety in private spaces. Hitchcock warned me that no matter how secure is a door’s lock, privacy can be invaded and there would be nothing I could do about it.

Well, Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene takes us behind the scenes of Marion Crane’s murder by Mother as she takes a shower before turning in for the evening at the infamous Bates Motel. Philippe has an impressive line-up of talking heads to facilitate the telling of his story: Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Torro, Ilyanna Douglas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Lee’s daughter, and Osgood Perkins, the son of Tony Perkins. Archival footage of Janet Leigh, the star of Psycho, as well as Alfred Hitchcock generates insight on the man behind the curtain.

One striking element to 78/52 is Philippe’s contextualization of the film. Points of reference include the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, the in cold blood murder of the Clutter family in 1959, and how the outbreak of juvenile delinquency cast an exhaustive eye on mothers. Even more important, Philippe notes a tear in the seams of 1950s idealism, in particular the changing roles of women. Something was about to give; it had to, and Philippe delivers a remarkable and incisive analysis of Hitchcock’s move into the space of that breach.

Hitchcock announced to the world of filmmaking: It is time for a change and here it is 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts later: Psycho, the murder of the movie’s female star early in the film by a cross-dresser. Enter the era of the modern film. Filmmaker Karyn Kusama notes that Marion Crane’s brutal murder is “the first modern expression of the female body under assault”, and Alfred Hitchcock left no stone unturned to render shock to the assault.

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Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double

As did Hitchcock dismember the body of Marion Crane, so do the interviewees cut apart the shower scene in the film. The shot-by-shot analysis by each of them feeds audience hunger to know more about its composition. Each analysis is remarkable, and this documentary will serve as an informative introduction to film analysis and film review. The attention to detail is astonishing. Did you know that Hitchcock ordered a horde of melons—yes, as in watermelon, honeydew, casaba, crenshaw, cantaloupe–to get the perfect sound of a knife stabbing flesh? The casaba won! Bernard Hermann, the motion picture conductor who composed the unforgettable shrieks, appears in raw footage. Yet, one of the delights in the documentary is the interview with Marli Renfro, Janet Lee’s body double. Now 79 years old, Renfro gently claims her historical significant in playing Lee’s body double. It is a joy to hear her behind-the-scenes story.

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Brigsby Bear @ The Ross

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Kyle Mooney as Brigsby Bear (James Pope)

Kidnapped as a baby from the hospital by a two science kooks, James Pope, played by Saturday Night Live regular Kyle Mooney, has lived in isolation underground somewhere USA since then. His parents, Ted, played by Mark Hamil, and April, played by Jane Adams, have assembled an animated outside world where animals and foliage appear real. Installed in the compound are secret codes that open and close doors; they wear gas masks when going outside. James’s only means of entertainment is a television show called the Brigsby Bear Adventures, and new episodes are delivered on VHS tape to him by his parents. Do you remember the 1970s television series called Spectreman and more recent Smallville? Well, add Teletubbies, Barney, and Power Rangers into the mix, hoist the moon from George Milies’s 1902 film Trip to the Moon, and you have Brigsby Bear.

Directed by Dave McCrary and written by Kevin Costello and Mooney, Brigsby Bear is a quirky offbeat film, and it envisions a world of acceptance no matter your circumstance. The FBI locate Ted and April, rescue James, and return him to his birth parents. The adventures begin as James, now 25 years old, finds friends who have an emotional and psychological investment in his project to turn Brigsby Bear into a film. For him, it is his only means of closing out his former world in isolation and embracing his new life.

Costello’s and Mooney’s story really is about using what you have in your own house to create happiness. James has memorized every Brigsby Bear episode, but with his return to his birth family, no more episodes are delivered to him. Since Brigsby Bear’s world is all James has known, Brigsby Bear is the dross material he utilizes to keep him from the brink of insanity. Strangely enough, we can credit James’s steady emotional and psychological course to the advice from his kidnapper father.

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All of Brigsby Bear’s adventures rest inside of James. This element in the story works, and sidesteps our expectation for a complete nervous breakdown by James after his capture and entry into his new life. Mooney is perfect in Brigsby Bear, playing him walking a very fine line between sanity and complete madness.

 

 

My Life as a Zucchini @ The Ross

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“No one is coming to your rescue!” an acquaintance said to me once in a strident tone. This, after a personal lament over a situation that I believed held me under a spell. Needless to say, over time that acquaintance and I have uhm … ahem … lost touch, but if we still were in contact, I would gift her with Claude Barras’s film My Life as a Zucchini as soon as it was available on DVD or to stream. I’d scribble a note: Dear Acquaintance, View & Weep! There are those who do come to our rescue!”

Based on the young adult novel by Gilles Paris, My Life as a Zucchini is filmed in stop-motion animation. It is a darling of a film, and Barris breathes life into the poignant stories of round-headed owl-eyed orphaned children living in a group home.

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Raymond visits Zucchini

The main character 9-year-old Icare voiced by Erick Abbate, is called Zucchini by his mother. She deals with the abandonment of Zucchini’s father by drinking beer and watching television day in and day out. Zucchini busies himself in the attic building towers with his mother’s beer cans. One day in a drunken rage, his mother climbs the stairs to give the boy the spanking of his life after she hears noises. Then. The accident. Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman, is a compassionate policeman who processes Icare into the foster care system.

Zucchini’s answers to Raymond’s questions uncover a boy who, in spite of his circumstances, still finds a kernel of something happy. Even though her broken family has depressed his mother, Icare loves her mashed potatoes. Sometimes, he reveals, they even have fun.

Puppeteer Gregory Beaussart and his crew have fashioned a most adorable ensemble of kids, and Barras allows them to grieve, smile & laugh, question, and even fall in love.

We all have heard horror stories about the foster care system but My Life as a Zucchini makes plain that in spite of personal trauma and no matter the chaos, some adults keep their promises; some adults really care; some friends keep watch over us; and, if we find ourselves dangling over the pit of despair, some friends will even come to our rescue.

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My Life as a Zucchini plays through March 30th at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing through April 6 at the Ross is A Sense of an Ending, Ruh-tesch Batra’s film about reconnecting with a lost love.

Toni Erdmann @ The Ross

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Meet Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek)

The lengths a father will go just to spend time with his daughter are explored in German director Mauren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann. The title of the film is not about a person by the name of Toni Erdmann and all of her or his adventures. Toni Erdmann is an alias. Winfried Conradi, a music teacher with no students, assumes the personality Toni Erdmann with the sole purpose of crashing in on the world of his daughter, Ines. After the death of his dog, Winfried, played by Peter Simonischek, longs to be more present in his daughter’s life. So, he shows up unannounced at her home in Bucharest.

Ines, played by Sandra Hahlur, has no patience for nor the inclination to grant her father’s wishes. She is a young strategist who successfully has climbed the corporate ladder; of course she is busy—always taking calls, going to meetings, giving presentations – sigh – to her father’s disappointment. What is worse she complains to her friends during lunch about how her father’s visit made for the worst weekend. So Winfried, feeling unwelcomed and unappreciated, packs up and returns home–or so Ines thinks.

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Toni Erdmann in costume

As soon as Ines turns around in a restaurant in the company of her girlfriends or looks around on the rooftop talking to her superior or at her naked-only birthday party, there he is – Toni Erdmann, bumbling around as an ex-con, a style consultant, or a German Ambassador made up with buck teeth and a shabby wig or in a bizarre costume that would scare bigfoot back to its cave. Where will Toni Erdmann appear next?

Peter Simonischek brings Toni Erdmann to a kind of crazy loopy peculiar life, and you can’t get mad at him. Every person in Ines’s life takes to him. Simonischek deftly manages his unpredictable character, and you can’t help but give over your heart to him. In fact, he is a kind of insufferable huggable lovable poppa.

When you see the film Toni Erdmann, be sure to pack a lunch or dinner; it is a long movie—almost 3 hours. And don’t count on a music score to guide your feelings—no—no violins or drum rolls here. Peter Orth, the cinematographer, lingers his camera on people; the camera outwears its welcome at parties and business meetings–even the goodbye between father and daughter is long in the tooth. Ade, however, refuses to pick up the cinematic pace; she makes you wait. The wait is well worth it.

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Erdmann with daughter, Ines

Winfried’s own reflection to his daughter on life uncovers the bright and shining gem in Toni Erdmann. What is worth living in life? Ines asked her father during one of his personality performances. In the backyard of his late mother’s house, father, without costume and daughter with no cellphone come together and alone and without distractions. Winfried finally gets the chance to answer her question. He begins, “The problem is it’s so much about getting things done … you do this or that but in the meanwhile life is just passing by. How are we supposed to The Ross logohang on to moments?  Now I just sit sometimes and remember how you learned to ride your bike. … but you only realize that afterwards … in the moment itself … it’s not possible.”

Toni Erdmann in German with English subtitles.

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