Alma has an important job in the Pergamon museum and does some teaching at the local University. She lives the sort of life sponsored by the Berlin tourist board where the television tower in Alexanderplatz is always just in the background. We first see her in a posh jazz club on some sort of blind date. Her companion is tall and handsome, and – in a way you can’t put your finger on – somehow very creepy. He is always charming, courteous, and has just the right line, more of less, for the occasion. It’s almost as if he were pre-programmed.
Time for a bit of background info. Alma’s boss at the University has just given her a new assignment. As the only single person on staff, she has 3 weeks to assess a new prototype Humanoid partner. Its all to do with ethics apparently – the Powers That Be are worrying about future court cases once the Humanoids goes on the market. What about potential cases for marriage and child custody?
But Alma is not looking for a partner and is certainly not seeking perfection. When “Tom” tidies up her flat, she looks ready to explode. When he prepares her a bath with rose petals and champagne, which is the fantasy of 93% of German women, it is soon pretty clear that she’s part of the 7%. She wants some unpredictability, some spontaneity, and he’s not able to offer this – unless its part of the algorithm.
What Alma wants above all else is to be left alone to do her thing. So, having an attentive companion cooking her breakfast and attending to her every need is really starting to get on her nerves. “Tom” is apparently everything that Alma ever wanted from a man, and – confronted with her desires in real life – she does not like it one bit.
All this means that Ich bin dein Mensch is able to address a number of interesting ethical questions, while just about surviving in that most difficult of genres, the German Romantic Comedy. Dan Stevens – who is apparently something big in Downton Abbey – is impressive as the ideal match who is somehow wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
Equally noteworthy is Maren Eggert’s Alma. For most of the film, we are encouraged to identify with her self-reliant belief that men and relationships just get in the way of enjoying life. When Tom’s algorithm asks whether she doesn’t want to be happy, she does not really compute. Why would anyone want to be happy?
Unfortunately, but almost inevitably, the film does sink into some sort of sentimentality. I kept finding myself willing director Maria Schrader to fully subvert the genre and to have Alma kick Tom into touch as a wasteful product of the joy industry. To be fair, she does get a couple of punches in, but ultimately the film reverts to the expected type.
And – this being a German film made in the 21st Century – there is an inevitable walk-on part by the wonderful Sandra Hüller as the woman who introduces the Humanoids to their potential partner – a robot pimp, if you will, albeit one with a secret of her own. Any appearance by Hüller automatically makes a film better, and she doesn’t disappoint here.
We are carried along by the vivacious plot, and can allow ourselves to ignore the obvious plot weaknesses, such as why would a prominent researcher be unaware of what her contemporaries in Buenos Aries are doing, or what exactly Tom keeps in his annoying bag on wheels, seeing as he is – remember – a robot.
I think that Ich bin dein Mensch is flawed, but where it fails, it fails with style. While it never quite challenges the Rom-Com genre (my least favourite), it does at least raise some important questions. And by having as its lead a woman who is no longer young enough to have children, and does not want to live in the manner that society has assigned for her, it does at least challenge some accepted wisdoms. I’d have preferred It to go even further, but the fact that it’s done what it has is a start.