Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Ich bin dein Mensch
Germany, 2021. Letterbox Filmproduktion, Sudwestrundfunk. Screenplay by Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader, based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky. Cinematography by Benedict Neuenfels. Produced by Lisa Blumenberg. Music by Tobias Wagner. Production Design by Cora Pratz. Costume Design by Anette Guther. Film Editing by Hansjörg Weißbrich.
Better known (at least outside of Germany) as an actress for performances in films like Rosenstrasse and Aimee & Jaguar, Maria Schrader’s latest directorial effort is a work of speculative science-fiction that focuses on human emotions and ruminates on the meaning of love, doing so in a cleverly cynical manner without ever being downbeat or unpleasant. Maren Eggert is excellent as Alma (she says she doesn’t speak Spanish but her name means soul in that language, the film’s least subtle reference), an academic who is preparing a project on Sumerian cuneiform that is still lacking enough funding to reach its final goal. She agrees to assist a corporation in trying out their product in exchange for financial support, which turns out to be her being given a human robot (played by Dan Stevens) with whom she must live in order to see if he makes the perfect life partner for future buyers.
Alma has always prided herself on her satisfaction with single life, she gets along well with her ex and doesn’t even react when he announces that he is moving in with his new girlfriend, so she’s willing to put up with her new roommate’s helpful habit of cleaning up and cooking at every possible opportunity, but has no intention of doing anything as silly as sleeping with him. He’s not a man, after all, he’s a machine, he does magnificent calculations in seconds and only expresses emotions when his program schematics prompt them, she’s basically living with an iPhone that has a penis and couldn’t possible get emotionally attached to him.
Tom, however, is very good at being a romantic machine, his bright blue eyes, friendly smile and casually amiable demeanor make it easy to love him as more than just a pile of silicone, and the more she comes to enjoy having him in her life, the more it makes Alma think honestly about the things she has wanted that she has convinced herself to stop looking for. Of course that doesn’t mean she can allow Tom to get in too close, if he’s programmed to never give her any resistance to her demands or desires then it’s not real love, but then…what is? Do we fall in love because of who the person is, or because of how they make us feel about ourselves, and do we ever even know the reality of either of those things or just live off our perception of them? And what’s wrong with being happy with a technologically advanced toy if he’s better at being human than most natural-born human beings?
Heady stuff to consider, but Schrader broods over the heavier themes of the story, instead focusing her beautiful cinematography on the charming interactions between her stars, who have sparkling chemistry and bring intelligent and lighthearted energy to what is probably the most endearing off-beat love story between human and object since Lars And The Real Girl. Sandra Huller appears in a supporting role as the representative for Tom’s manufacturer and Stevens is a wonder as the central character, perfectly convincing as someone who is learning humanity as a second language while always giving off an instinctive and infectious sense of goodness.
Berlin Film Festival Award: Best Acting Performance (Maren Eggert)
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021