Magazine article Screen International

'Zoe': Tribeca Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Zoe': Tribeca Review

Article excerpt

Drake Doremus treads familar ground in this robotic drama with Ewan McGregor and Lea Seydoux

Zoe

Dir. Drake Doremus, UK/Canada. 2018. 104 minutes

In Zoe, robots called synthetics look and talk and move exactly like humans. The problem in this grey-toned tech-romance by Drake Doremus comes when love enters the equation in a film which which holds no surprises on either the synth or human front.

The constant brooding talk of man-robot bonds can feel as we’ve leapfrogged not into the near future, but back into a French film from the early 1960’s

While the end result is more tender than tech, twists in the script by Richard Greenberg could rope in a young crowd which is drawn to “can-you-top-this” cyber tales. And the drama’s surprisingly traditional love story between human Ewan McGregor and synthetic Lea Seydoux could connect with a slightly older demographic. Amazon’s acquisition of Zoe will help at festivals and on every other platform, as will Christine Aguilera’s fleeting (non-singing) appearance as a synth prostitute.

Zoe (Seydoux) is a product of Relationist Labs, where divorced, dour and dedicated robotics engineer Cole (McGregor) designs “synthetic companions” to help clients optimise their relationships. Besides looking human, the beautiful Zoe has advanced intelligence, emotional depth, and humour. When she takes her firm’s compatibility test, and scores 0 % with Cole, her colleague, the hint of an office romance seasoned with sci-fi swerves into a crisis of the heart. Their affair takes us into a drama where the murky area between human and robot turns out to be as flesh and blood as in any love story, despite a seductive array of fascinating robotic wrinkles.

Zoe and Ash (Theo James), another smart and sensitive synth at Relationist Labs, are acutely aware that being robotic makes them expendable. We see the fate of timeworn synths when Cole and Zoe visit a basement brothel (designed with less imagination than the robots) where black-haired synth Aguilera serves customers in a Moulin Rouge costume. The madame in charge notes that once the bordel synths show signs of wear, they are repurposed (taken apart) or thrown out on the street. …

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