The myth of Pygmalion shifts the genre I am your man, the participation in the Berlin Film Festival competition of the German Maria Schrader. Maren Eggert plays Alma, a single anthropologist who agrees to live with a humanoid robot for three weeks as part of a trial period. Thomas (Dan Stevens) was designed as Alma’s perfect partner, using algorithms based on his brain scans, responses, and research involving 17 million people.
Polite, charming, and well-dressed, Thomas appears human except for the occasional mechanical smile. Then there’s also his habit of generating detailed stats, something he learns to curb as Alma clears him up about his true preferences – or at least, what she thinks they are. “Maybe they know you better than you,” Alma’s coworker chuckles, as she complains about Tom’s lines of conversation. When the strange couple begins to cohabit, the robot is a catalyst for self-reflection and self-doubt in this dramatic comedy that is as stimulating as it is funny.
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Based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky, the screenplay – written by Schrader and Jan Schomburg – explores themes such as identity, humanity, fantasy, self-love and happiness. If happiness is achieved, does it matter that the source is artificial? This is the key question. In contemporary Berlin, human males aren’t a good option for Alma: her ex has switched to a younger model, and everyone is matched. When Alma wants Thomas to act more like a human, she asks him to be angry and unpredictable. Later, a brief revealing scene shows two men in a road rage argument. Is this really a better alternative? Meanwhile, Alma’s senile father is equally erratic. Maybe a charming robot who can meet all of his needs is just the tonic – heck, he even cleans windows.
Schrader draws sharp character comedy out of the premise, aided by terrific performances. British actor Dan Stevens – fluent in German with an English accent – is an always fun physical artist, while Toni Erdmann Star Sandra Hüller is playing a nice trick as a handler. But Eggert is the star of this show. She communicates Alma’s exasperation, frustration, and introspection in a way that delicately balances comedy and drama.
Interestingly, one of the more serious scenes is a sex scene. In sci-fi comedies, the female orgasm is usually either absent or played for laughs. Here is one of the most revealing moments in the tale, as a series of emotions sparkle on Alma’s face. Guilt, pleasure, surprise, confusion, revelation, doubt – it’s all there for a few crucial seconds. Strange science it’s not.
Of course, many other films have played with the idea of an AI or a magical lovebot: it invites comparisons to everything from Blade runner at Her. But the female lead role gives the story more than a new twist. This is an opportunity to reflect on the psychology of attraction from the point of view of a professional woman with a complex inner life, free from testosterone which drives many examples in the genre. And in an age of isolation, social media and online dating, I am your man seems surprisingly relevant. It may have been written before the pandemic, but I am your man was filmed during this: an entertaining topic of conversation for the present day.