It’s possible to tell a sci-fi story about the coming age of sentient machines without a “Chappie” size budget, or turning “Chappie” insipid.
“Eva” is a modestly chilling if predictable Spanish science fiction film about “emo” robots. A 2011 vehicle for poly-lingual leading man Daniel Bruhl (“Rush”), it’s obsessed with that one great robotic concern in sci-i — the ineffable extra “something” that makes us human.
Bruhl plays Alex, a robot scientist who returns home to the northern Spanish university town where he grew up, a city that’s become a center for robot research and production.
He’s there to help the local college, where his brother (Alberto Ammann) and ex-girlfriend (Marta Etura) teach.
His mission? Help finish a prototype child robot that the school has been fiddling with. In a world where Alex’s “pet” cat, secretaries, drivers and the valet that the school with its Big Tech ties sends to look after him are robots, people still want a child that won’t grow up.
The plan is to model this ninth iteration of a sentient robot on a real boy. But Alex thinks “Boys are boring,” and boring boys make for boring robots.
Then he spies Eva. Played by Claudia Vega, she is anything but boring. Precocious, beguiling and playful, this ten-year old notices Alex staring at her and flings an instant nickname at him.
She’s perfect, if he can get her permission and her parents’ permission to study her, if he can get her to stop turning cartwheels through the snow and answer a few questions.
It turns out she’s his niece, the child of his ex-lover and his brother. That makes for an interesting dynamic as the robotics professors ponder the idea of the robot builder, a guy with whom they have history, modeling a machine after their spirited, smart kid.
The future captured by director Kike Maíllo’s crew is snowy (climate change), a world where people still smoke and SAABs have been reborn as zero emissions vehicles. The robot cat is a digitally animated add-on, and a feeble one.
Bruhl has a nice way of brooding, Etura (“The Impossible”) suggests the hurt and longing of a love that wasn’t meant to be. And young Miss Vega is a pleasant mix of enchanting child and future prom queen of the Children of the Damned. A teasing tantrum tosser, and a little scary.
It gives up its secrets so easily that we can guess where this is going from the opening (literal) cliffhanger. But this film, in Spanish with English subtitles,has one utterly brilliant conceit, one the film returns to, again and again.
What one question would constitute the difference between a person, with memories and emotions, and a machine?
“What do you see when you close your eyes?”
“Eva” isn’t surprising enough to break new ground. But the cast, the gorgeous wintry setting and suggestion of a tech future that is closer than we fear make it a most watchable variation on a well-worn sci-fi theme.
Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Marta Etura, Alberto Ammann, Claudia Vega, Lluís Homar
Credits: Directed by Kike Maíllo, written by Sergi Belbel, Cristina Clemente, Martí Roca, Aintza Serra. A Radius/TWC release.
Running time: 1:35