It’s fascinated for years. From the confusion of Blade Runner’s Rachael to Spike Jonze’s seductively voiced OS in Her or A. I. Artificial Intelligence’s leather clad Gigolo Joe, the possibility of personal relationships between humans and robots has always intrigued with its possibility of the perfect, nay made to order, partner. And the resultant domestic bliss. The past twelve months have made the idea even more pertinent but, despite ticking so many boxes, through the eyes of Unorthodox director Maria Schrader, the monotony of such perfection is close to unbearable.
In I’m Your Man, resolutely single Alma (Maren Eggert) agrees to take part in a three week experiment – sharing her life with robot Tom (Dan Stevens), with a view to him becoming her life partner. He’s made to measure for her, programmed to meet her every need, but she thinks otherwise. For one thing, she doesn’t want a partner and, for another, all that perfection is grating: a good argument now and again wouldn’t go amiss. Over time, however, her attitude starts to soften and she sees her devoted humanoid in a different light – especially as he starts to show signs of having the sort of emotions nobody could build into a machine.
Starting out as something of a rom-com – or rob-com? – the film gives Stevens a rare chance to shine. His Tom can’t quite shake off his mechanical nature and it shows when they dance in a singles bar and in his almost permanent slight smile and wide eyed look. It all makes for some wonderful humour – an invitation to rumba has never been laced with such twinkling suggestion and his actual dancing suggests a touch of Saturday Night Fever built into his programming. Contrast that with Eggert’s initially bewildered Alma, reluctant to take part in the trial and even more wary of getting anything approaching close to her new companion, and you have a classic odd couple scenario with a modern twist, one that works beautifully. When he runs her a luxurious bath, candles, rose petals and all, he finds her response strange. “93% of German women dream of this,” he implores. “Guess which percentile I’m in?” is the tart reply.
But underneath the sparky humour is something more contemplative, philosophical even: questions and ideas about relationships, human nature and loneliness yet without tidy solutions. The humour in the second half of the film fades to make way for this approach, considering instead the unpredictability of human nature and how life without a certain amount of surprise and conflict will always be counterintuitive. That’s how we’re “programmed”, it seems, and we’ll always try to upturn something that’s simply too perfect. The absence of easy answers to Alma’s problem means that viewers can reach their own conclusions, based on their personalities and relationships, as well as interpreting the ambiguous ending in the way that makes most sense to them. A robot could never do that.
I’m Your Man is one of the delights of this year’s Berlin – perceptive, witty and with two stand out performances at its core, including a career best from Stevens speaking immaculate German in an English accent (one of Alma’s preferences, as we discover). How much it teaches you about relationships and people in general is entirely up to you, but that challenge is part of its appeal. We’re only human, after all.
Comedy, Drama | Cert: tbc | Berlin Film Festival | Dir. Maria Schrader| Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert, Sandra Huller, Hans Low, Wolfgang Hubsch.