Maren Ade

The Forest for the Trees (2003)
7.0 Everyone Else (2009)
7.5 Toni Erdmann (2016)

Maren Ade (Germany, 1976) debuted with The Forest for the Trees (2003), followed by Alle Anderen/ Everyone Else (2009), a weird character study in which very little happens, almost a Bergman-ian psychological domestic drama. Chris, a budding architect, and his girlfriend Gitti are vacationing at the Italian villa of Chris' parents. They are saying goodbye to Chris' sister who came to visit with her two children. Her girl dislikes Gitti and Gitti, frustrated that the girl refuses to explain why, instructs the girl to shoot her with her finger and then falls into the pool, simulating death. Chris and Gitti, suntanning by the swimming pool, seem in love. One day they spot Chris' friend Hans and Chris comically hides from him. He is afraid that Hans will spoil their vacation. Chris' partner Philip calls Chris to tell him that they lost the bid on an ambitious project, but Chris doesn't tell Gitti. Chris and Gitti discuss hate. Gitti wants to go to a disco but Chris only takes her to a room with some romantic music and dances grotesquely for her. Then they have sex. Chris hopes to get hired to renovate a villa. Chris hits a glass door and bleeds from the forehead. Gitti meets a German couple that invites them to join a boat trip, but Chris is not excited. Gitti accuses him of being always indecisive. Chris is upset and rude. He refuses to tell her what is bothering him. They again run into Hans and this time Chris tries in vain to avoid Hans. Hans introduces his pregnant wife Sana. Chris decides to cancel the boat trip and have dinner with Hans and Sana, despite the fact that he tried so hard to avoid them. Hans is also an architect, but much more successful than Chris. He patronizes Hans, who is famous for idealistic unrealistic projects. Gitti yells back at Hans but Chris, instead of being grateful, tells Gitti that she is being embarrassing. Philip told Chris that their designs are too complicated and expensive. She learns that they lost the competition only when Chris tells Hans. Chris and Gitti go hiking, and Gitti has the backpack full of drinks and food to surprise him. He reluctantly accepts the surprise when she pulls out champagne and food. Chris clearly loses the trail but refuses to admit it. He doesn't even wait for Gitti, who is clearly struggling, almost as if he wanted to punish her for carrying so much stuff on a hike. They get back exhausted but Chris still joins Hans to go drinking. She is not invited and spends the night alone at home. Chris tells her that he is embarrassed her her and he would like her to behave like everybody else. They meet the following day at a restaurant. She has bought a gift to thank his mother. He met with the villa's owner who seems to like his proposal. They meet the German couple that invited them to a boat trip and are embarrassed but the couple invites them again. Gitti tells Chris that she's afraid of losing him. Gitti prepares dinner for Hans and Sana. Nobody is grateful. Chris and Hans throws the ladies in the swimming pool, a joke that Gitti finds humiliating. After Hans leaves, Chris apologizes. Gitti jumps from a window, perhaps to attract his attention, but he doesn't see her on the ground until much later. They have sex. He tells her that he loves her. The following day he wants to go to the beach, but she announces that she doesn't love him anymore and she is leaving him. She calls him ridiculous. Then Gitti collapses as if dead. Her friend calls. Chris picks up. Chris knows that Gitti asked the friend to make the call pretending to be in need of Gitti's help, as an excuse for Gitti to leave. Gitti keeps lying on the floor "dead". Chris knows that she is just playing. Eventually, he makes her laugh and she caresses him tenderly.

Toni Erdmann (2016) is about a lonely father who stalks his daughter, a woman who is trying to make it in the exclusive world of male-dominated business deals but lives a fundamentally unhappy life. Her father cannot be happy if she is not happy and tries all sorts of crazy ideas on her, mostly upsetting her, until he finally causes her to see a less conventional side of life which results in her staging a cruel joke on her own coworkers. The film is more a melodrama than a comedy, but with grotesquely surrealistic overtones.

Winfried is an eccentric divorced middle-aged music teacher who lives with his brother after having been in jail and works in a school helping stage shows by the children. He is barely tolerated by his ex-wife and daughter Ines. His only friend is his dog, but it dies. Winfried flies to Romania, where Ines is posted. He waits for her in the lobby of her office building and disguises himself as someone one to walk next to her when she enters in the company of several businessmen. After having him wait for three hours, she receives him coldly but still invites him to a reception at the US embassy. There she tries to lure a powerful businessman into a deal but the businessman is actually more interested in her father who, wearing a casual attire, tells the story of how he hired a substitute daughter to play Ines who is mostly away from home. The businessman treats Ines with chauvinistic complacency, simply asking her to help his wife go shopping, but finds Winfried so interesting that later he insists that he and Ines join for a drink at a bar. There the businessman treats Ines again rudely and seems to make fun of Winfried. Winfried retaliates with a half-joke that ruins the evening. His improvised visit quickly turns into a nightmare for her, who is stressed and anxious about the deal with the powerful businessman, and he realizes it, so he packs and leaves. She cries a bit after waving him goodbye but has an important presentation to work on. The presentation doesn't go well. After the meeting, she spends the evening with two female friends, Steph and Tatjana. Suddenly a charming man in suit and tie with long hair approaches them and offers them a drink. He says his name is Toni Erdmann, but it is just Winfried wearing a wig and false teeth. Winfried pretends to be a businessman and makes a couple of bad jokes. He leave in a limo and Ines doesn't have time to confront him. Ines receives mildly good news that the businessman has accepted one of her proposals but now wants her to stick around for months to solve all the problems related to her plan, whereas she was hoping to be transferred to China. While she is discussing the case with an associate, Toni Erdmann reappears, this time farting not far from them. This time Ines confronts him, suspecting that he is trying to ruin her, but he still pretends to be a businessman and leaves in a hurry. Ines can't even have normal sex. Her Romanian coworker Tim is her more or less secret boyfriend and she prefers that he masturbates after touching her legs than have real sex so that she doesn't lose her "bite" and doesn't waste time. She asks him to ejaculate on a cookie and then she elegantly eats the cookie. They then meet again at a night-club where she gets bored and leaves while Tim is dancing with another woman. Winfried/Toni is there and follows her home. She is mad to find him in her apartment. Winfried/Toni tries to make a joke with handcuffs but ends up handcuffing them for real; and she has to go to an appointment. After getting rid of the handcuffs she takes him to the meeting. They meet Ines' client in the oil business (that she is supposed to restructure by firing thousands of its workers) and he takes them to inspect an oil drilling operation. Toni makes one of his jokes that causes one worker to be fired. He asks Ines to make sure the worker won't be fired but she cynically replies that the more workers get fired the fewer she will have to fire. Then Toni needs to pee and walks into the vegetation. A local peasant sees him and takes him to his house, and then even offers Toni a gift. Back in the car alone with Ines he guilt-trips her. Then he asks her to stop at a humble residence. An ordinary family lives there. They invited him at an Easter party after he pretended to work for the German embassy and he mockingly introduces Ines as his secretary "Schmuck" ("foolish"). He then accompanies her at the electronic keyboard while she sings a pop song like a passionate teenager. Everybody claps delighted but Ines walks out ashamed. Disappointed and worried, he sits down with his host and tells her the truth, that he's not working at the embassy and that Ines is not his secretary but his daughter. That evening Ines' company is staging her apartment for a celebration of her birthday which is truly a business meeting for the whole team. A staff decorates the apartment and brings in the food while she dresses up. Upset at her shoes, she takes her dress off just when the first guest rings the bell. Luckily it's one of her best female friends, but Ines doesn't even pretend to be upset: she just opens the door naked and then offers her friend a drink as if everything was normal. Then another guest rings the bell and again Ines, still naked, opens the door naked in front of her puzzled friend. This time it's her boss Gerald. Ines keeps her composure and simply tells him that it's a naked party. Gerald is all dressed up so Ines sends him away. Then Ines also sends away the friend who is already in the house because she refuses to undress. Then Tim arrives and he leaves thinking that they are planning a prank on him. Then Ines' secretary Anca arrives and... she is indeed naked, having been informed that this is a naked party and fearful of disobeying Ines. Then Ines is surprised by the next guest: a man disguised as a spirit-chaser in a costume that completely covers his body. The man doesn't say anything to the two naked girls. Then Ines' boss Gerald returns, naked. The spirit-chaser leaves and Ines runs after him, barefoot and wrapped in just a night-gown. Realizing that he is her father, she chases him in a park and... they hug. Then she returns to her guests (we are not shown what is going on at her awkward party as new guests arrived fully dressed and found the boss and the secretary naked!) while Winfried looks comically for help to remove the costume. Then the film fast-forwards to the funeral of Ines' grandmother. Very few people attend. She tells her relatives that she is quitting and joining another firm, based in Singapore. After the funeral father and daughter can exchange a few words: he reminds her of events of her childhood.
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