I’m Your Man has a clarity and vibrancy in its direction that isn’t achieved in its high-concept thematic concerns.
Questions of humanity and love are pondered in I’m Your Man, a German production from director/co-writer Maria Schrader that imagines a future where realistic robotic humanoids can meet the needs of those lonely individuals looking for companionship. Shades of everything from Blade Runner to Her to Ex Machina color the proceedings, albeit with a welcome female perspective both in front of and behind the camera that provides the material a much-needed charge. Maren Eggert stars as Alma, an anthropologist selected by a wealthy tech company to test-drive its latest creation: A.I.s who look, sound, and act remarkably human. Alma’s specific model has been rendered to resemble the man of her dreams, which rightfully explains why he is played by Dan Stevens. Hesitant at first, Alma soon discovers she is developing feelings for her robotic partner, but questions whether such an emotional connection is indeed real or simply a projection of and reaction to her own loneliness. If something can incite such happiness within an individual, what matter, then, are questions of authenticity? And is it the simple pursuit of said happiness that defines our humanity?
So yeah, you’ve heard it all before, and frankly, Schrader brings nothing new to the rhetoric in terms of ethical or philosophical inquiry. The ending is especially frustrating, a note of would-be wistfulness that comes across as a bit of a shrug, a filmmaker unwilling to commit to any one logical trajectory. Yet, there’s something to be said for a movie that meaningfully examines the sexuality of its middle-aged protagonist without either exoticizing or playing it for cheap laughs. Eggert, so great in last year’s I Was at Home, But… delivers a performance of honesty and melancholy, one that gets at the anger and regret and hurt and longing and passion that exists bone-deep within her character. Stevens, meanwhile, is given the opportunity to break out his flawless German-language skills, but more importantly, his affected — or stilted, if we’re being cynical — acting style is welcomingly suited to literally robotic character work. For her part, Schrader’s direction has a clear vibrancy, utilizing an emphasis on deep focus and both bright and monochromatic colors that practically pop off the screen. If only that clarity and specificity were found in the film’s thematic work, then I’m Your Man might have been something legitimately memorable rather than contenting itself to the well-intentioned but undercooked final form it takes.
Originally published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 3.