maren ade toni erdmann
ade: BERTRAND NOEL/SIPA/AP

The independent-minded German producer-turned-director, who makes films under her own shingle, innovates the comedy genre with 'Toni Erdmann'

They say Germans don’t have a sense of humor. How then to explain the fact that the year’s most innovative comedy, “Toni Erdmann,” hails from German writer-director Maren Ade (whose name rhymes with “bar and spa day”)?

“I was interested in making a film about family,” Ade says, “about the different roles that we play in our families, whether we like them or not, and all the ritualized dynamics that we cannot escape.”

Like the title character, Ade’s own dad loves practical jokes, and has been known to slip in a pair of false teeth and grimace at nearby cars when stuck in traffic. “I took that and made it bigger for the film,” she explains. “The whole comedy comes out of the desperation of the father.”

Now on her third film, Ade has developed a precise method of refining and rehearsal by which she arrives at piercingly truthful and often unnerving intimate portraits — a process so long, in fact, that Ade delivered two children during the course of making “Toni Erdmann,” one during the writing phase, and another during post.

“I need to know the actors as actors, but also as people, because it’s clear we will have a long trip together,” says Ade, who typically shoots 10 to 20 takes to get each scene just right — double that for shot-reverse shot constructions, since the actors play both sides, whether or not they’re on camera.

Then begins the marathon editing process. On “Toni Erdmann,” it took a full year to wrestle nearly 100 hours of footage into the 162-minute cut that world-premiered in competition at Cannes. Attempts to make it shorter sacrificed valuable subtext. “It got banal,” Ade admits, whereas keeping it long “made it stronger and more emotional, because each viewer had the space to go for a walk on his own.”

Age: 41
Influences: Paul Thomas Anderson, Judith Weston (author)
Production company: Komplizen Film

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