Wednesday 2 February 2022

Please give the German android gigolo movie a Hugo nod

It’ll be an uphill battle to get I’m Your Man the Hugo nod it deserves.
(Image via TIFF)

Of the five Hugo Award-shortlisted movies directed by women, only The Matrix (directed by Lilly and Lana Wachowski) was an original screenplay rather than an adaptation. The other four — Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Old Guard and Captain Marvel — are all comic book adaptations.

Of the five Hugo-shortlisted movies that were not in English, only Invention For Destruction (1958) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) earned less than $5-million in North American cinemas. The three foreign-language movies to have been shortlisted this century were all mainstream hits: Pan’s Labrynth ($60 million domestic box office in 2006), Spirited Away ($10 million domestic box office in 2002), and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($126 million domestic box office in 2000).

So it seems fair to say that a German-language sci-fi romance that earned less than $300,000 in North American cinemas and was written and directed by a woman is unlikely to be noticed by Hugo Award nominators. But this is a shame, because I’m Your Man is a quiet, thoughtful, compassionate, and nuanced movie directed and scripted by Maria Schrader based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky. And it is exactly what the award should be recognizing. 

Set in a near-future Hamburg, I’m Your Man follows Dr. Alma Felser (Maren Eggert), an anthropology
Maren Eggert and Dan Stevens
don't exactly have chemistry,
they have something far more
… calculated than that.
(Image via NationalPost)

professor who has begrudgingly agreed to conduct an assessment of Tom (Dan Stevens), a prototype of an android designed to be a romantic partner. Fesler, a divorcee who has put her career first, is dubious of the android’s value and participates in the assessment as a favour to the head of a university department with which she is affiliated.

Despite an initial clinical detachment, Dr. Felser begins to be enticed by the android’s meticulous focus on being the ideal romantic partner. But she can’t fully buy into the experience because she knows that every perfect moment is the product of research, psychology, and algorithms. Simultaneously, she’s challenged emotionally by her ex-husband and his new girlfriend’s decision to have a baby together. This is all, of course, standard plot tension for a romance film.

What’s refreshing, for both AI and romance films, is that I’m Your Man feels like a deeply personal
Director Maria Schrader might
be familiar to SFF fans as 
Quissima Dhatt in the BBC
adaptation of The City & The City.
(Image via Radio Times)

movie, comfortable both with its own awkwardness, and with tackling the difficulties of relationships and the contradictory desires of humans. This is not a movie that follows standard Hollywood narrative patterns, or focus-grouped easy satisfaction conclusions, but rather tells a story that one person wanted to tell. And it’s stronger for that. Writer-director Maria Schrader is probably best-known in North America for directing the Netflix drama Unorthodox, for which she won an Emmy, though she also had a supporting role in the BBC TV series adapted from China Miéville’s Hugo-winning novel The City and the City.

As a dialogue and interaction-focused science fiction movie that is quite at odds with the dynamics of most American cinema, I’m Your Man might not have worked if it weren’t for the superb performances of the two leads.

Dan Stevens, who is probably most famous to SFF fans for playing David Haller in the superhero TV show Legion or for playing Alexander Lemtov in last year’s Hugo finalist Eurovision, alternates disconcertingly between charm and a lack of affect in possibly his finest performance to date. Evident in this performance are insights into what humanoid robots might actually be like, and this is part of what makes I’m Your Man so good as a work of science fiction. It’s a movie that grapples with the consequences of fulfilling humanity’s emotional needs through simulacra and artifice. It’s a movie that understands the seductive and dangerous allure of lying to ourselves.

But the real stand-out of the movie is Maren Eggert, who fully embodies the complexities and passion of an academic. Viewers who have worked at an institution of higher learning will recognize small details and nuances in her depiction of Dr. Alma Felser; the excitement of new knowledge, and the heartbreak at seeing someone else publish the idea first. Those who have struggled to find a romantic relationship that fits with a self-imposed, demanding career will likewise find a lot to appreciate in Eggert’s performance.

I’m Your Man is possibly the finest robot story brought to the screen since Fondly Farenheit was adapted as Murder And The Android in 1959. It deserves your attention, and no matter how unlikely a contender it might be, I’m Your Man deserves to make Hugo history as the first foreign-language movie directed by a woman to make the shortlist.


  1. How can I watch this film?

  2. Depends on which country you live in. In the USA, I believe the movie's about a $3 or $5 rental on most services like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.