The future is looking to be automated. Each year, engineers invent new methods of computerizing, mechanizing and robotizing. In Ann Arbor, you can’t go a day without seeing a driverless car or a couple varieties of cute little delivery robots. On the one hand, delivery robots are pretty dang cool. Watching it languidly roll down the sidewalk, pop open its insulated compartment and then go on its merry way is nothing short of exhilarating.
On the other hand, there’s the doom and gloom of a late capitalist nightmare realm where the worker is obsolete and no one’s skillset is safe from robotic encroachment.
But delivery robots are cute! Super cute. We’ve got the cute part down. “I’m Your Man” puts forth the bold question: But what if they could be sexy?
In “I’m Your Man,” Germany’s entry for Best International Feature from actress and up-and-coming director Maria Schrader (“Unorthodox”), love is automated.
It presents itself as a cute little rom-com full of quirk and camp. Take a look at the trailer. It looks like the kind of movie you can predict from beginning to end purely from the logline. A professional no-nonsense career woman uninterested in romance alongside a dreamy love-boat (love-bot?), literally designed to sweep her off her feet. Initially chilly, she’ll soon warm up to this robotic interloper’s advances and experience what she never thought she would: true love and yada yada yada.
Admittedly, that run-down is mostly right. It’s called “I’m Your Man.” The film wears its premise on its sleeve. But that’s not to say the film is entirely unsurprising, and of course Alma’s (Maren Eggert, “Ottilie vonFaber-Castell”) reacquaintance with romance doesn’t happen in quite so cookie-cutter a fashion.
Alma is a German archeologist working for another, slowly withering, archaeologist. In her spare time, she alternates between caring for her deteriorating father and visiting the local bar. Everything is bland, but everything is simple, and she can focus on what matters most: her work. This is exactly the ethos that leads her to agree to take part as an expert evaluator of an exciting new enterprise: robot boyfriends, tailored to their partner both in form and personality. Live with a love-bot for a few weeks and bam — some more funding for her work. Enter Dan Stevens (“Beauty and the Beast”).
From the get-go, the particulars of the premise are a little off. Tom is ostensibly designed as Alma’s dream partner — everything from the compliments he sputters out to what he’s packing down under. At the same time, the filmmakers really go in on the whole “robot” thing — he’s a calculator, an encyclopedia, über-fast and super strong. On their first ride home, endearingly reminiscent of some sort of wacky adoption, he calculates the probability of an automobile accident according to the position and angle of her seat. Actuarial precision isn’t sexy, and it’s hard to imagine these hyper-superb abilities were included among Alma’s secret amorous desires.
But Tom is a robot after all, and his artificial nature isn’t just a cute premise for a “love in unexpected places” type story. Like most sci-fi films, “I’m Your Man” uses technology to elucidate some vital aspect of the human condition. In this case, the film focuses on using the almost human and the inhuman to achieve a better understanding of the human — because what is never forgotten is that Tom is not human. It hounds Alma day and night, even as she finds herself frustratingly charmed by him.
Tom’s naïve yet omniscient understanding of Alma and the world at large ends up being an excellent vehicle for unpacking Alma’s emotionally complex interior. Tom is incisive, insightful and un-sexily brutal in his psychoanalysis. When she cries, he correctly identifies her tears as “egotistical tears.” When she expresses her trepidations about love, he calls it pathetic. But he’s equally tender. Egotistical tears are egotistical, but they’re tears, nonetheless. Alma might be pathetic, but a person’s failings, their silly parts, their nonsensical parts and even the pathetic parts round out the contour of what makes them, them.
“I’m Your Man” is unexpectedly moving. It’s unexpectedly beautiful. Not for any overabundance of pathos or ode to the power of love. If it wasn’t clear, it’s not a sexy film. It’s an earnest one. It makes no grand artistic displays; it doesn’t quite reach the transcendent, but, ever so lightly, it touches the soul.
Daily Arts Writer Jacob Lusk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.