ROBOT DREAMS. Friendship in the City
The film “Robot Dreams” by Pablo Berger is based on a graphic novel published in 2007 by American illustrator Sarah Varon. It premiered at last year’s 76th Cannes Film Festival. This first animated work by the Spanish director and screenwriter has already won the European Film Award for Best Animated Film and recently earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Animated Feature Film category.
The film’s plot presents a modest yet beautifully captured story about the idea that friendship is also (perhaps primarily) a beautiful form of love. To demonstrate this, Berger transports us to 1980s Manhattan, inhabited by a dog who one day realizes he feels very lonely. Wanting to change this, he purchases a robot, which he then assembles himself. The characters quickly become friends and become inseparable companions. Their everyday life unfolds to the rhythm of Earth, Wind & Fire’s iconic song “September,” and the newly discovered New York turns out to be not an overwhelming, big city but an incredibly cozy and warm place where they experience their “golden dreams and shining days.” However, as you can imagine, nothing lasts forever…
Berger, in his animated debut, proves that despite the prevalence of CGI today, traditional hand-drawn animation can still make an impression. Furthermore, he subtly reminds us that cinema, despite functioning as an audiovisual work by definition, tells a story primarily using images, and in true, “pure” cinema, words are essentially unnecessary. The director, as he himself admitted in the creation of this title, wanted to return “to the roots” of film art, and it must be said that he succeeded very well.
The title of the film, “Robot Dreams,” is not without reason, highlighting the Robot over the Dog among the main characters. Fueled by longing, the delirious dreams and imaginations of the Robot seem to constitute an intimate, almost Freudian dissection of what happens in his psyche after he has to confront the loss of someone who was his entire life. They are an extremely important part of the plot, showing that the Robot, like the Tin Woodman from “The Wizard of Oz,” regardless of having a heart or its absence, can feel true emotions and harbor sincere feelings for his best friend.
“Robot Dreams” is a very expressive film in its simplicity, using animals and robots to tell a story about the need for closeness, inherently and inseparably embedded in human nature. It’s a story that makes children burst into cheerful laughter and adults secretly wipe away tears of emotion. And although the ending of the animation may seem very sad at first glance, the moral that emerges from it turns out to be crucial in the truth of its message. People will come and go in life, and the fact that we feel perfectly matched with someone at a given moment does not mean it will be like that until the very end. It is not always something over which we have any control. However, we can control how we use the time we share together; an obvious truth that, nevertheless, is undoubtedly worth instilling in the youngest and reminding the older ones, which “Robot Dreams” undoubtedly does. The story presented in Berger’s animation emotionally impacts more intensely than many dramas, ultimately leaving the viewer with a lingering memory of the Tin Woodman who said, “I now know I have a heart because I feel it breaking.” And though it may break at times, it is certainly worth having.