Last weekend, I had the opportunity to catch some films at the New York Film Festival. While the main slate of this year’s edition is mostly a repeat of this year’s Cannes Film Festival back in May, it is nice to see how these once competitive titles played out for a juried audience to a public one.
The biggest highlight has to been the showdown of the Palme D’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach), and the critical darling Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade). Both screened last weekend (with encore screenings scheduled on October 16 for both films) to enthusiastic audiences. Both are perfectly designed for a post-capitalist world, but is I, Daniel Blake really the better one?
For starters, I, Daniel Blake takes place in England, pre-Brexit, where the title character is subjected to the nightmare known as government bureaucracy. After suffering a severe heart attack, Daniel Blake is unable to work, banned from finding any from doctor’s orders, nor does he qualify for the benefits that he desperately needs. He is tossed around from one personnel to another. The government workers are not allowed to help him do the paperwork. And, like most baby boomers, he struggles to use a computer and the internet to apply, which makes a very comical scene for those who know what it is like to not understand things in this fast-paced world. Along the (miserable) way, he meets Katie, a single mother of two who is also not getting the help that she needs from the government, and resorts to starving herself in order to feed her kids.
I, Daniel Blake is an extremely relatable movie. It goes beyond the relationship between government and the poor to the point where one could think about their bad relationship with their insurance or cable provider. It never sugarcoats the experience of these characters nor is anything extremely pretty about the environment in which they live in. While it does take an extremely dramatic turn in the final act, there is no superfluous ending. It’s tight and well put together. However, it’s the exact same thing I see from a majority of European films that get a chance to play in American theaters.
Enter Toni Erdmann, a comedy of manners and errors between a free-flowing father and his high-strung corporate executive daughter. It’s not a laugh-out-loud minute by minute comedy; it perfectly balances drama and comedy in its 162-minute running time. (Don’t worry, it’s actually worth every minute.) I can’t give much away without running the whole experience, but it is a must see in a theater with an audience around you. Immediately, Toni Erdmann has something that I, Daniel Blake doesn’t: it’s ability to be relevant in a cinema experience versus a Friday night with VOD as your significant other.
In the end, it’s Toni Erdmann that is most deserving of your time, and was completely ignored by the Cannes Jury (led by Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller) for any major award whatsoever. It is a shame because it is so unique, carrying the sense of leftist urgency with a dash of humor and outrageousness. If you are left wanting more about Toni Erdmann, I highly recommend spending some money to go see it in a theater. At this rate, the only redemption I see for the film is for it to get a nomination for Best Foreign Language film at next year’s Oscars.