Review: I’m your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch) – compelling film takes an existential look at love, growing old and the meaning of it all
I’m Your Man (2021) is billed as a “science fiction romance film” and that tag almost put me off as I am not a fan of sci-fi and romance. I loved this film- in German, with English subtitles. It is a deliciously compelling film which takes an existential look at love, growing old and the meaning of it all. Outstanding script (cerebral but with humour), nuanced performances and stylish direction which makes this film a joy to watch. It is screening online at the European Film Festival South Africa- hybrid festival – cinemas and online- October 13 to 23, 2022. Tickets for online screening are free (geo blocked to South Africa) but tickets apply for cinema screenings. Info here: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-european-film-festival-sa-2022-exciting-hybrid-fest-bringing-the-best-of-european-cinema-to-southern-african-screens/ Booking: https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/2022-home/screenings/
I almost gave I’m Your Man a miss as the genre of sci-fi conjures up, for me jerky robots, speaking with automated voices. To add to that, this film, is bundled with a romance tag. Who cares if we will one day be able to find a robotic mate and does one want to watch a film, framed around this premise? Yes, you do. I will tell you why I loved this film.
The film premiered at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival and when I saw that it is written and directed by Maria Schrader, I immediately took note. The German director, Schrader won an Emmy award for her direction of the Netflix miniseries, Unorthodox, starring Shira Raas- a woman who flees her rigid orthodox Jewish community in New York. The series was shot using Yiddish as its primary language. Although Schrader is not Jewish, she has been involved with many projects with Jewish content and themes. She is a Renaissance film person – actress, screenwriter and director. When I saw that she not only directs I’m Your Man but has co-written the script, I thought – ‘okay- let’s give it a go.’ I follow her work and her signature use of gesture and measured silence which speaks volumes (reference: Unorthodox).
The screenplay by Schrader and Jan Schomburg pivots around Alma (Maren Eggert), a scientist who is tasked with trying out a humanoid robot, Tom (Dan Stevens) as part of a study. In exchange, she is offered professional favours to assist her research. She is a grumpy middle age woman and reluctantly agrees. Tom has been programmed with algorithms to be her ‘perfect man’. At their first meeting, he serenades her with: “Your eyes are like two mountain lakes I could sink into.” Yummy piece of scripting. It is so awful, it is fabulous. Alma is amused. This is the best they could do! The film rips along, with the dashing Dan the Robot wooing her. He may be a humanoid robot but humanness peeks through. At one point Dan declines sex. He tells Alma that he doesn’t feel like it and instead tucks her into bed. He is not cool at simply being used in this instance as a way for her to gratify her physical needs. He may be a robot but he is wise to her game.
The German title of I’m Your Man is Ich bin dein Mensch. In Yiddish – a mensch is a decent person/human. In I’m Your Man. Dan is a mensch. Plot spoiler: He intuits that Alma is freaked out when she hears that her former squeeze is expecting a baby with his partner, because she (Alma) knows that she is unlikely to have baby at her age. Dan: “Maybe you think of your father. That you may end up as lonely as he is and you want have children to take care of you”. The film depicts with tremendous pathos, her caring for her elderly father who is dealing with dementia, loss of memory and a grip on reality. Dan gets the emotional tug that she feels in not procreating: “I can understand that. It’s very easy to understand”. Alma counters that what she feels is “banal and self-indulgent and pathetic”. Dan: “Your pain is pathetic because it’s relative. But it’s also not pathetic, because I love you.”
Dan is there at the point in Alma’s life when she is particularly fragile and feeling untethered- questioning everything – religion, life, existence. She is struggling with faith and formal religion and fesses up to Dan she has given up on god and has pledged not to summon god by praying, when she is on an airplane and is scared. Dan: “Most people would pray if their airplane was about to crash. It’s human to do that”.
I’m Your Man resonates on many levels. It excavates the concept of being “happy” and not “alone” and what that takes to achieve that and is that the end game? What makes us human and how do we define our humanity – in relation to what? It is a reflective film which made me smile. I was charmed by the elegiac ending which invites us to suspend our disbelief. Maybe, sometimes we just need to let go and go with the flow. We may be surprised by unexpected encounters and experiences, if we stop overthinking everything and intellectualising. No, I am not suggesting that we sign up for a robot humanoid (although Dan is yummy). I am saying that we need to chill out and accept kindness and humanity from those that care about us.
✳ Featured image supplied by European Film Festival (SA).