Tag Archives: I’m Your Man


A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD

From Ida Tarbell’s exposé of Standard Oil, to Upton Sinclair’s critical exploration of the plight of  packing house workers, to Ralph Naders’ blistering attack on automakers, America has a rich  tradition of what has become called “muckraking.” Some will see Andrea Arnold’s documentary  debut, the 2021 movie Cow as in that genre, but I would think that a mistake. It has a visceral  punch and evokes a  strong reaction, but it is not a protest film. It is a tour de force, however,  on many levels. Just released to movie houses, I watched it on Amazon Prime.

Strikingly, there is almost no dialogue in this film. It is a biography of a cow, Luma, centered on  the birth of two of her seven calves. We hear only scraps of conversation among the employees  of the English dairy farm housing Luma. They address their bovine charges as “good girl,” and  manage their comings and goings without the electric cattle prods seen in some settings. But  Arnold gives us an unsparing, honest look at the muck and mud and blood of the setting.

We watch Luma’s strenuous birth labor, and the tug of war winching out of her calves. We see  her placenta dangling afterwards. We watch her next impregnation, the climax of which,  jarringly, is accompanied by a pictorial burst of fireworks.

Most viewers will resonate to Luma’s tender ministrations to her newborn calves, and be  harmed by the offspring’s’ tottering responses and nuzzling of her mother. They will also feel  stirred by Luma’s lowing when the calf and her mother are separated by the need for Luma to  be returned to the cycle of artificial machine milking. That highlights one of the major contrasts  of this documentary, that between living flesh and blood and the clangor and efficiency of  machines on the other: incompatibles inextricably interwoven in Luma’s story and in human  lives.

Another element of the film that seemed important was the British pop music soundtrack. It  struck me at times like an ironic comment on the action. But I came to regret my lack of  familiarity with that material.

An intriguing issue posed by this film is its documentary “fly on the wall” self-presentation. The  dairy workers give no evidence of being aware of the process of filming, of interacting in any  way with the filming crew. And yet the cameras and crew must have been making an  impression on the workers, and, indeed, of influencing in some way their behavior.

As a biography of Luma it must end with her death, the details of which I will not reveal. There  is, however, an afterword. We watch Luma’s second calf going down a path that will echo Luma’s.

Andrea Arnold’s first two feature films, Fish Tank and American Honey, earned awards at Cannes. Cow will further burnish her reputation.

I’m Your Man

A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD

This self-described Rom Com surprises with its wit, and its depth. The frothy wit with which it  abounds is contrasted by flashes of tragic despair.

German written and acted, with subtitles, directed by Maria Schrader, it more than merits its many awards. The female lead, Maria Egert, won Best Acting Award in the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. At the 2021 German Film Awards, Egert was named Best Actress; the  male lead, Dan Stevens, Best Male Actor; and Schrader, Best Director.

Egert plays the role of  Alma, a career-focused archeologist, seeking evidence of poetic writing in ancient relics. In  pursuit of funding for her research team, she reluctantly agrees to serve as a subject in another  study, one that explores the feasibility of using humanoid robots programed to adaptively modify their behavior, as humans’ companions. She is to cohabit with a robot, Tom, for an  extended period of time, and to evaluate the experience.

At a fanciful party where many of the attendees are holograms, Alma, while giddily brushing  through hologramed guests, literally bumps into her proposed companion, whose appearance  is that of an attractive young man. Tom invites Alma to dance, leading her in a hilariously  extravagant tango, in the midst of which he begins to malfunction and is carried off for repairs.

Once Tom is refitted, Alma drives him and his baggage to her apartment. The drive is the  occasion for an awkward conversation during which Tom assures Alma that he is programmed  to modify his behavior in the light of her preferences. Alma makes it clear that the relationship  is to be more formal than intimate. As he explores his new setting, Tom notes a painting that  Alma says was a gift from a friend. As the story unfolds, the “friend” is the father of Alma’s still- born child. Tom also notes a photo of Alma as a youngster, radiating happiness as she sits next to a male  companion, coincidentally also named Tom. Alma tells Tom that the delightful male companion  of her youth drifted away from her long ago.

Tom, in the hope of helping, speed-reads all the literature on the topic Alma and her team is  researching, and discovers that a competitor has already published proof of the thesis Alma was seeking to confirm. Crushed, in an alcoholic daze, Alma has sex with Tom.

She suffers a second blow, learning that the partner that had given her the painting and  fathered the unsuccessful pregnancy, has married another woman who is now pregnant.

Tom tries to comfort Alma and she begins to feel drawn to him, but ultimately despairs, telling  Tom, “I’m acting in a play. But there’s no audience. All the seats are empty. I’m only acting for myself. Even right now, I’m only talking to myself. It’s not a dialogue,” a rueful acknowledgement of the psychological truth that without the gap of otherness, real love cannot exist. This confession becomes the framework of a second confession that closes the film.

Alma tells Tom to return to his factory. When she learns that Tom has not returned there but has disappeared, Alma becomes concerned. Looking for him, she returns to the site where she  had last seen her childhood companion. She finds her robot companion waiting for her. The  film ends with Alma confessing anguished feelings of loss and loneliness to Tom.

The movie is available on Hulu, Amazon and Netflix.