Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch)

Written by Patrick Hao

72/100

Since Her was released in 2013, a commentary on the loneliness of humans with the dawn of AI technology, filmic depictions of technology have been especially dour. The Black Mirror-ification of media harping on the cynicism of what technology is doing to humans – a perfectly valid response to our disconnected world. Maria Schrader’s new film, I’m Your Man refreshingly does not take a cynical stance on technology, rather explores the void that humans are trying to fill.

Schrader, along with co-writer and collaborator on the excellent film Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, Jan Schomburg, takes a decidedly human approach on AI. The focus is on Alma (Maren Egert), a scientist at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum who is recruited to beta test a new humanoid Tom (Dan Stevens) who is programmed to be Alma’s ideal mate based on a dating profile she filled out. Alma’s loneliness is derived from her neurosis and work-first attitude. Her analytical mind makes her skeptical of Tom, setting the ground rules to the humanoid that she will not fall for him. Dan Stevens makes it difficult, amping up his natural charm. After all, he was made for Alma. He even speaks German with a British accent because Alma likes vaguely foreign men (also a clever way to get past Steven’s natural accent.) Naturally, Alma begins falling for Tom.

The concept sounds like an odd couple high comedy, especially early on as the film plays out the antagonism between the two. All that is charming and clever. But the movie’s strength is the surprising depth into what makes human relationships valuable – which is the messiness of the situation. As the film progresses, and Tom’s AI learns about the “meaning of being human,” the relationship between Tom and Schrader gets messier. Alma is consistently aware of the machinations at play, but self-awareness cannot always overtake feelings. 

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

It is very easy to imagine this premise devolving into something much more idiotic. The fact it never does is a tribute to Schrader’s approach in grounding material in actual human cause and effects. Egert, especially, is a grounding force as Alma, never letting her neurosis feel like a defining one-note trait, but rather a piece of her whole. Stevens plays up his charm and artificiality with subtle movements like a simple pouring of a coffee pot. He makes it very believable that someone with the hardened exterior of Alma would begin to have cracks in her foundation.

The movie is not a philosophical thesis on relationships, humanity, and free will, but motions towards those topics with depth and nuance, unlike the preachiness of Black Mirror. The subversion of the third act is a sly indictment of the way single women of a certain age have been used as tropes in movies. A perfect partner cannot cure a person of their problems. A meaningful relationship cannot be a one-way street.

I’m Your Man does not focus on the existential dread of technology that so many of these tales seem to be rooted in. Rather, it is the deep humanity of the film that makes what can be dismissed as a superficial romantic dramedy feel like something special.

I’m Your Man Trailer

I’m Your Manwas screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Toni Erdmann

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

In director Maren Ade’s latest film, which begins in current day Germany, Peter Simonischek plays Winifred Conradi, a divorced, unkempt, and oafish schoolteacher. He’s nearing retirement and seems to be suppressing his loneliness and ennui with practical jokes that sometimes go too far. He lacks a sense of boundaries and is either overconfident in the degree to which others appreciate his humor or is simply short on self-awareness. His daughter, Ines, played by Sandra Huller, is a high-strung, ambitious businesswoman who’s regularly forced to put up with insufferable, sexist males colleagues. She’s a consultant for an oil company in Bucharest, Romania, constantly extending her stay in the country at her boss’ request; she’d rather relocate to Shanghai.

The film kicks off in earnest when, at a small family gathering to celebrate Ines’ birthday, Winifred begins to pick up on the fact that Ines might not be as happy as she lets on. To better assess the situation, he does what any good father would do – he goes to Bucharest and starts unexpectedly showing up at Ines’ work with a bad wig, fake teeth, and the persona of Toni Erdmann, an eccentric character who’s background and profession changes depending on who’s asking.

Winifred never explains outright the reason for his appearances. Is he trying to get Ines to lighten up? Is he as unhappy and lonely as he thinks she is, and thus seeking her companionship? Or does he actually think Ines and her colleagues will find his gag as amusing as he does?

Toni Erdmann is a delightfully bizarre, funny, and touching father-daughter comedy that gives us reason to believe Winifred’s real motivation is perhaps some combination of the above and much more. To some extent, Winifred himself might not even be able to fully articulate why he keeps up the act. What’s even more a pleasure to contemplate is why Ines tolerates and sometimes welcomes Toni into the boardrooms and business dinners at which much of her time is spent. Like most great films, the ambiguity necessitates multiple viewings, upon which I don’t expect the humor to lose its potency nor do I expect the commentary on workplace sexism, fatherhood, daughterhood, careerism, loneliness, and the search for the meaning of life to become any less fascinating.

Toni Erdmann Trailer

Toni Erdmann is currently available on VOD