The German film "Toni Erdmann," about a retired father trying to reconnect with and potentially save his estranged workaholic daughter, was a critical hit following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016.
It was crowned the best film of the year by various organizations, won a slew of European Film Awards and was short-listed for a foreign-language Oscar.
The film is well-acted and painfully honest. The father, posing as a clueless life coach, barges in on his daughter’s high-stakes work life and plays witness to her lackluster personal relations. It’s also excruciatingly awkward at moments, especially when the father dons his costume of a wig and fake teeth.
The cosmopolitan daughter seemingly has it all but she’s at loose ends, and her dad, in his own clunky way, isn’t going to leave until he helps reground her.
Or, as at least one critic has suggested, she may only be imagining her father there hounding her to abandon her joyless lifestyle – a telling reading in itself.
You may find this film uncomfortable to watch and, at nearly three hours, too long, but its success must say something about our collective need for a loving father figure to guide, support and protect us.
So, in honor of Father's Day this Sunday, here's a list of other international movies, all available to stream online, about dads.
Fathers & Daughters
In the 2006 Danish film “After the Wedding,” a young bride finds herself with two fathers – the man who raised her (Jorgen) and her birth father (Jacob), whom she believed dead. The ailing Jorgen has arranged for Jacob to enter his family’s life to replace him when he dies.
Jorgen is an exemplary father and a wealthy patriarch accustomed to controlling everything in his ambit. In his own way, Jacob is father figure to many, running an orphanage for impoverished children in India. Jorgen’s scheming forces Jacob to return home and choose between his adopted family in India and the Danish one he never knew he had.
Director Susanne Bier reflects the men’s emotional states by pitting a colorful, chaotic India against an affluent but cold and grey Copenhagen. Shot in a minimalist style, with handheld cameras, natural light and extreme close-ups, she forces viewers to empathize with these intensely human characters, especially Jorgen as he faces the one thing out of his control – his own death.
“Father Knows Best” is the name Taiwanese director Ang Lee gave his 1990s-era trilogy of local films about tensions between generations: “Pushing Hands,” “The Wedding Banquet” and the award-winning sleeper hit “Eat Drink Man Woman,” which helped launch Lee’s career in Hollywood.
The latter title refers, as the film’s father puts it, to the “basic human desires” of food and sex. These dual needs fuel the film’s storylines, but the deeper tale of how an aging chef and his three grown daughters must all find their own paths in life, without renouncing their dedication to each other, offers plenty of insightful connections between generations as well as genders.
There’s also lots of sumptuous looking food. “Life isn’t like cooking,” the father announces in the film’s climactic scene. There’s no recipe and you can’t always depend on having all the right ingredients ready in advance.
What matters, he wisely counsels, is the taste.
Fathers & Sons
Giuseppe Tornatore’s beloved 1988 classic “Cinema Paradiso” follows the life of a young boy in post-war Sicily. It’s an homage to a simpler time as well as to the heyday of classic Hollywood, all set to a sweeping score by Ennio Morricone.
Little Toto’s father went missing in the war, but he finds a substitute in Alfredo, the projectionist of the local movie house where Toto spends all his free time. The sweet but uneducated Alfredo offers the growing Toto wise counsel, usually in the form of lines pilfered from movies.
But Alfredo wants more for the boy once he’s grown and convinces Toto to leave their small town and never look back, thereby setting him on the path towards his future as a successful film director in Rome but also forcing a bittersweet estrangement from his adopted father and roots. It’s the ultimate parental sacrifice.
A decade later, Roberto Benigni directed and starred in the award-winning “Life is Beautiful” about a father trying to shield his young son from the horrific realities of the Nazi concentration camp where they’ve been imprisoned. He convinces his son the Nazis and the camp are all a part of a big game that they have a chance of winning if they just follow the rules.
Though some critics debated whether it was appropriate to depict the Holocaust through the lens of comedy, and Benigni’s clownish antics can chafe, at its heart “Beautiful” is the story of a father doing everything in his power to protect his son’s life as well as his innocence.
Bring your Kleenex, and have a wonderful Father’s Day.
This column originally ran in The Daily Record.