Berlinale 2021 Review: I'M YOUR MAN, Sex, Love and Algorithms

Filmmaker Maria Schrader's latest is a humanistic, bittersweet comedy, with a latent philosophical angle.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Berlinale 2021 Review: I'M YOUR MAN, Sex, Love and Algorithms

German director and actress Maria Schrader seizes two notorious genres in her latest feature film, I'm Your Man, and rebuilds them into a humanistic, bittersweet comedy with a latent philosophical angle. Sci-fi and rom-com collide in Schrader's oeuvre, inspired by Emma Braslavsky's short story.

Schrader and her co-writing partner Jan Schomburg gender-flip the popular sci-fi premise of an android designed to fulfill the deepest human desires. Maren Eggert, of Angela Schanelec's I Was at Home, But and The Dreamed Path, stars as Alm, lured unwillingly into a humanoid robot trial. One of the reasons why Alma's boss suggested her for the three-week test drive is the fact that she is single and taking into regard her workaholism, lonely. However, fierce and independent Alma is a no-nonsense girl and a wrecking ball of romantic clichés. Schrader, on the other hand, manages to wreck a couple of sci-fi clichés.

Alma works as a scientist at Berlin's Pergamon Museum, finalizing her long-term project of studying Sumerian cuneiform. In a great tradition of girl-meets-boy stories, Alma is introduced to the tailor-made and fine-tuned soulmate of hers in an android and hologram café. Sandra Hüller of Toni Erdmann plays the account manager/relationship consultant for the new human-machine cohabitation.

After Tom malfunctions on the first date, he is returned to Alma a couple of days later. The blowhard machine whips out every romantic cliché possible and fails to impress the already skeptical Alma. She finds having to live with an artificial intelligence personified as Dan Stevens (Downtown Abbey, Legion) as a nuisance especially, after the android Tom pulls shticks from a textbook of the most overused and overrated so-called romantic gestures.


Schrader, who won an Emmy for the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, and Schomburg (Schrader and Hüller have appeared previously in Schomburg's directing efforts) tackle a theme that has outgrown its genre home turf. Humans-meeting-AIs narratives have a long and proven track record throughout history from Frankenstein to The Stepford Wives to Her. With the advent of technology and AI-driven tools and assistants becoming a mundane reality, these stories lost the spark of mystery and exoticism and instead started to investigate what it means to be human. Recently, the British scribe Ian McEwan offered a comparable angle in the novel Machines Like Me, however, Schrader and Schomburg take their story in a little different direction and territory reworking, and subverting, a romance formula.

This philosophical thread sneaks throughout Schrader's film, deconstructing strangely accepted romantic norms. The British filmmaker Elizabeth Sankey assembled evidence of the ultimate romantic illusions in the desktop documentary Romantic Comedy. Despite the white heteronormative cis-gender relationship peddled as the ultimate goal in one's life, female characters have been assigned a sexist, if not misogynist, passive role of princess waiting for her prince, a.k.a. Mr. Right. Sankey's found footage docu-pic catalogs the notorious rituals leading to a perfect match, and eventually the ideal relationship, which over the years (and many Harlequin-like romance books) twisted the notion in the collective consciousness.


Alma rebels against the illusion of love and romance and the myth of an ideal partner to that extent. Schrader offers a female gaze upon a similar story Spike Jonze processed in Her through a male perspective. Alone and in the aftermath of a break-up, Alma continues in her life, although the workaholism may be considered as a compensatory mechanism.

Unlike the production design on Her, I'm Your Man appears to be set in present-day Berlin, lacking in eccentric gadgets and a futuristic setting. Gradually, Schrader reveals how and what events formed Alma's personality through several subplots organically attached to the central girl-AI dynamics. The small digressions address running motifs of loneliness and motherhood within the central narrative that surpasses the love at first algorithm premise.

Besides the primary topic of love in the times of omnipresent intelligent algorithms, Schrader's I'm Your Man broaches the bigger question of cyber capitalism: whether data mining and data analysis can truly expose real human desires and assist in materializing them. The pursuit of happiness is reduced to a series of mathematical operations with a small statistical error while desire becomes commodified by a wish-fulfilling machine.


The Toni Erdmann effect can be sensed over Maria Schrader's bittersweet and unsentimental speculative rom-fi I'm Your Man, which could help the film reach a wider audience. Furthermore, I'm Your Man can be added to the growing amount of genre fiction being reclaimed and re-shaped by women in a feminist revision. Even though the story arrives, in the end, into the well-known resolution of human-robot relationships, sharing the opinion with the "I Dated a Robot" episode of Futurama.

Maren Eggert won the Silver Bear for the Best Leading Performance for her role in I'm Your Man at the 71st edition of the Berlinale Film Festival.

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Berlinale 2021Dan StevensGermanyI'm Your ManMaren EggertMarina Schrader

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