By Carol Borden
Maria Schrader I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch (Germany, 2021)
Sure, there are a lot of movies about people falling in love with androids, robots and AI, but a lot of them are about the risks and even dangers of men falling in love with robots. In Ex Machina (2014), Her (2013), and Godzilla vs Monster Zero (1965 / 1970), for example, men have learned what it is to feel a love beyond computation. And there is even The Companion (1993), in which a woman falls in love and experiences the perils of a smitten Bruce Greenwood android with full autonomy. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not room in my heart for one more.
Unlike Her, Ex Machina, The Companion and Godzilla vs Monster Zero, Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch (Germany, 2021) is mostly a romantic comedy. It just has some additional existential drama. Schrader is also an actor. You might know her from Aimeé & Jaguar (1999) or Nobody Loves Me / Keiner leibt mich (1994), but she has moved into directing and I am happy she has.
Dr. Alma Falsar (Marren Eggert) is working on breakthrough research she is about to publish on previously undiscovered poetry in cuneiform tablets at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. The museum’s administration has offered her additional funding if she’ll participate in an experiment. She’s to spend three weeks with an android designed to be her perfect partner* and then write an evaluation that will help determine whether or not robots should be allowed to marry and have other rights in society. Of course, this funding is a “thank you gift” and not a bribe.
Alma meets Tom (Dan Stevens) at a special club designed to show off the romantic possibilities of androids--and even holograms. Tom attempts to woo her with compliments and the rhumba, but it’s not really Alma’s thing and she seems more interested in him as a robot than a potential partner. She does, however, take Tom home and set him up with his own room. And so the experiment begins.
In another film, Tom might rampage or we might discover he is more “human” than human. Another film might let Tom be hit by a streetcar for maximum pathos or to resolve the central conflicts it has set up about what it means to be happy and what it means to have a perfectly compatible partner who only wants to make you happy and give you everything you want. Another film might echo the warnings of earlier science fiction that the robots will trick us by being perfect servants and then take over. (Shades of Benito Cereno). I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch does not. But it does provide the possibility of Alma navigating her principles and concerns while also, perhaps, allowing herself to love and be loved. And I appreciate that it navigates issues of consent well--not only Alma’s but Tom’s ability to consent.
The above might make it sound like the film is not funny, but I have to say that Dan Steven’s Tom was hilarious to me. His reactions, his romantic poses, his delivery and his too much intense eye contact and initial overuse of Alma’s name were all on point. Marren Eggert’s responses to Tom are similarly hilarious. Her bewilderment, her incredulity, her absolute bafflement and exasperation at times were delightful And I enjoyed how Tom and Alma would watch each other in different ways. The film has a lovely and quiet use of the gaze. And Marren Eggert is fantastic as Alma moves towards a vulnerability that she does not want to feel and that makes her feel more alone. But Alma’s integrity and her commitment to her work and living as she thinks she should are not compromised. They are just complicated by not just her growing feelings for Tom, but by her curiosity about him. I’m Your Man is another favorite at this year’s festival and I’d gladly watch it again.
(Incidentally the Bleecker Street trailer translates Alma saying “This is the penis of my dreams” as “This is the man of my dreams.” You know better, Bleecker Street).
*A Mechanized Organism Designed Only For Marriage. I want to be more sorry about this joke than I am.
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