“I’m Your Man” (German: Ich bin dein Mensch) is a romantic science fiction film with a decidedly female point of view, written and directed by Maria Schrader and starring the 47-year-old Maren Eggert and the 38-year-old Dan Stevens.
Fans of “Downton Abbey” are well aware of the romantic allure of actor Dan Stevens. He has gone on from Matthew Crawley to other romantic leads, notably Sir Lancelot in “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” in 2014 and the beastly prince in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017. Stevens has also played a man with supernatural powers and schizophrenia (“Legion” from 2017-2019). Doubtlessly, fans of “Legion” will recognize some things here such as Stevens’ uncanny ability to make deeply romantic gestures to seem a bit off-putting, to borderline creepy.
Eggert plays, Alma, an anthropologist doing research on ancient languages at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. She was in a relationship with Julian (Hans Löw) who has moved on to a much younger woman. I can’t help but feel that the name which means “kind” or “nourishing” or “lifts the spirit” has some meaning here.
Alma finds herself at what seems to be a dance party with a mix of extraordinary ballroom competitive level dancers on the floor. She does not, however, have the moves. Her hostess (Sandra Hüller) introduces Alma to her date: Tom (Stevens). Tom has a much too intense stare, but before you can think stalker material, he takes Alma out to the dance floor, displaying dance moves that outclass his follower (something a sensitive lead would never do on the first dance). Then he malfunctions.
Tom is an android programmed specifically to make Alma happy. Alma has agree to be part of this test program and her supervisor Dean Roger (Falilou Seck) waves a carrot in front of her–an academic trip abroad to finish her research project.
The glitch in Tom is fixed, but one can’t say the same for Alma’s attitude. She’s not interested in him and his offer to sleep together. None of his romantic gestures soften her attitude toward him. It’s not until he breaks news to her about her research that in her emotional response, she yields to the possibility of being happy with this android.
You might be wondering why I point out the age of the two co-stars. At one point in the film, Alma will run into someone she met at the initial dance party. The 62-year-old Dr. Stuber (Jürgen Tarrach, 60) was matched with the much younger Chloé (Karolin Oesterling, 35). Stuber tells Alma, “I had no idea it was possible to be this happy.” He’s a judicial expert and was a confirmed bachelor, but not by choice. “I see just how unhappy I was before; no one wanted me.” Like Alma, his evaluation will likely affect the future of these perfect significant other androids as potential marriage partners and even full-fledged members of society.
Alma writes her evaluation contemplating what these androids might mean to the future. “Human history is full of supposed improvements whose dire consequences only become clear decades or even centuries later.” The humanoid robot designed to replace a husband or wife, tailored to individual preferences can “seem to be better than a partner” because “they fulfill our longings and satisfy our desires and eliminate our feeling of being alone.” And yet, they “make us happy and what could be wrong with being happy?”
Yet she wonders, “But are humans intended to have all their needs met with the push of a button?” and if these perfect mates will “create a society of addicts” and decide not “to challenge ourselves and endure conflicts” that come with “sustaining normal human contact.”
Schrader, who last year won a directing Primetime Emmy for her Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox,” co-wrote the film with Jan Schomburg (“Divine”) based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky and this film gives us the other side of the science fiction black comedy “The Stepford Wives” (made into films from Ira Levin’s 1972 satirical novel in 1975 with Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss and in 2004 with Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler). When you see Julian you’ll wonder just whom Tom is modeled after and that is the poignant twist at the end of the film.
“I’m Your Man” is an intelligent commentary on society and gender differences and beautifully acted by the leads who lets us see their chemistry slowly develop. It premiered at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival and was part of the official selections at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was selected as the German entry for Best International Feature Film for the 94th Academy Awards. “I’m Your Man” opens on 24 September 2021. In German with English subtitles.