By Julien Pretot
CANNES, France (Reuters) - After an eight year break, German cinema is back in the Cannes Film Festival's main competition with director Maren Ade's "Toni Erdmann", a bittersweet comedy about a father and his estranged adult daughter.
Wim Wenders left the Croisette empty handed after showing "Palermo Shooting" in 2008, but Ade's film has become an immediate front-runner for this year's Palme d'Or after it drew a lengthy standing ovation at Friday's screening.
Germany last won the Palme d'Or in 1984 when Wenders won the highest distinction for "Paris, Texas".
Actor Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried, an eccentric music teacher who, after the death of his old dog, travels to Romania to try to rebuild his relationship with daughter Ines, played by Sandra Hueller.
"While we were shooting... we worked with a lot of focus, very freely and very hard," Simonischek said after the Cannes screening.
Winfried arrives in Bucharest to surprise Ines but his prank-loving personality jars with the lifestyle of his daughter, a corporate strategist in an oil company.
He pretends to return to Germany but instead dons a wig and false teeth and comes back as Toni, a "life coach" fond of the same corny pranks, but a character Ines warms to.
The film received an ecstatic ovation from the audience in Cannes, who seemed won over by its mix of fantasy and realism.
"It is unbelievable what happened (at the premiere). It was a very beautiful, happy experience. So much encouragement to get for the work we have done, that was very, very amazing," said Hueller.
Although a comedy, "Toni Erdmann" explores the topic of sexism at work, as Ines is seen working hard and succeeding in her job, but still struggling with the attitudes of her male colleagues.
"The more she is working there she finds that there is still... some secret borders where she is not able to get over, as a woman," said Ade told Reuters.
It is the third feature film from Ade, 39, who won the Golden Bear, the highest distinction, at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009.
The winner of the Palme d'Or will be announced next Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Hortense de Roffignac; Editing by Ros Russell)