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Automated Affection – I’m Your Man (Berlinale 2021 Film Review)

3 min read
Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert in Ich bin dein Mensch | I’m Your Man by Maria Schrader | DEU 2021, Competition | © Christine Fenzl

Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert in Ich bin dein Mensch | I’m Your Man by Maria Schrader | DEU 2021, Competition | © Christine Fenzl

In 2013, Spike Jonze introduced the world to the soft-spoken OS ‘Samantha'. Since the release of Her and its romantic ordeals on the clash of technology with the modern-day dating sphere — filmmakers and screenwriters have been modifying their own unique technology-based parables with the underlying concept of universal yearning. Another notable example is Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049; a film that expertly handled its hologram lore and technological boundaries. However, the other staggering unifying factor between De Armas and Johansson's roles of materialist artificial intelligence, is the unifying relationship dynamic of the male gaze. Both films are undeniably brilliant in their social critiques, when weaponising and clearly commenting on its depicted perspectives for ultimate effect. It's just that in recent memory, there's an eerie lack of distribution upon stories that involve a woman's POV on this evolving technological shift. 

Or at least so I thought, until my initial viewing of Maria Schrader's delightful I'm Your Man. The film, based on a story by German writer Emma Braslavsky, is a breezy work of science-fiction. A film less worried about the technological semantics and logic behind its world building, Schrader focuses more on the character interplay at hand. Hence, the inclusion of a more women-centric perspective — where the film is entirely told through the shoes of a lonesome woman dubbed Alma. Recently commissioned to run a unique experiment involving artificial intelligence, Alma is later paired off with Tom — a robotic humanoid who is enthusiastically portrayed by a very handsome German-speaking . Tom is perfectly cast, as Stevens narrowly borders on the threshold of uncanny valley with perfect timing and body language. His stilted posture, swift movements, and uncomfortable stares also add a level of subtle connotation to the illusion of artificial intelligence. 

Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller in Ich bin dein Mensch | I'm Your Man by Maria Schrader | DEU 2021, Competition | © Christine Fenzl
Dan Stevens, in Ich bin dein Mensch | I'm Your Man by Maria Schrader | DEU 2021, Competition | © Christine Fenzl

It's a theme that is later discussed in depth within the film's tense third act — where Alma's continuous internal debate is scattered through messy fragments and memories regarding her emotional security and willingness to continue the experiment. I'm Your Man is a film never afraid of entering territory that explicitly details the disadvantages of recent artificial intelligence developments. To reiterate, Schrader instead focuses on the psychological character interplay exclusively — the disadvantages of continuing an illusion that's continuously omnipresent.

At one point, Schrader makes it evidently clear that the value, tangibility, and memory of past love will always be more real and present than any form of a physical illusion attempting to emulate a pre-existing emotion. It's a profound statement, that for the most part is only semi-effective within the film's jarring, third act thematic shift. It's a strange situation, especially in how both unique halves of I'm Your Man managed to adequately execute the darkly comedic and the emotionally endearing with great ease. Both Stevens — and even Hüller's short lived supporting role as a technological specialist — are equally fun caricature performances. Both roles are methodical and unhinged, that never border on the extreme or recklessly vulgar. Regardless of the familiarity of its slightly predictable structure, the revamped technological angle amplifies a conventional narrative and its determined performance work at the core of the piece. 

Love is already complicated and messy as it is. Once you mix in artificial intelligence and other forms of technological evolution, things get far more stickier and confused. It's the thesis of Maria Schrader's latest uplifting feature. I'm Your Man is an energetic recount on the cycles of modern love, that never falls for common trappings of sentimentality overkill. At its core, it keeps its characters in check upon the logistics of its depicted utopian future — a world interpreted with colourful tints and hues that comments on our present routine struggles. The future might be right around the corner, but some of us are still living in the past. Succumbed with our primitive desires for passionate connection, I'm Your Man's authentic portrait on the power of longing and desire is frequently imaginative and endlessly fascinating on a conceptual scale.  

Dir: Maria Schrader

Cast: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw, Wolfgang Hübsch

Country: Germany

Year: 2021

Runtime: 105 minutes

I'm Your Man is set to compete for the prestigious award at this year's 71st . The film is currently seeking international distribution.

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