Hollywood traditionally hasn’t done well by robot movies—witness the insipid Chappie—so it’s a pleasure to encounter the small-scale inventiveness of Kike Maillo‘s debut Spanish feature belatedly receiving its U.S. theatrical release by The Weinstein Company after premiering in Europe several years ago. Starring German actor Daniel Bruhl (demonstrating an impressive command of Spanish), Eva is a provocative and engrossing effort that, although trafficking in familiar themes, is a notable addition to the timeworn genre.
Set in 2041 in an unaccountably snowy Spain, the story concerns the return to his university hometown after many years abroad of Alex (Bruhl), a robot scientist who has been summoned by his former colleague Julia (Anne Canovas) to design a new child android dubbed SI-9. Although Julia wants him to create a robot boy, Alex in insistent that it be in the form of a young girl since, as he explains, “Boys are boring.” He thinks he’s found his perfect inspiration in the form of Eva (Claudia Vega), a precocious ten-year-old who playfully responds to Alex’s attentions by calling him a “pervert.”
But his plans are scuttled when he finds out that Eva is actually the daughter of his brother and fellow scientist David (Alberto Ammann) and his wife Lana (Marta Etura), who we eventually learn is Alex’s former love and who is adamantly opposed to her being involved.
The screenplay co-scripted by four writers begins with a literal cliffhanger and proceeds to parcel out its plot twists, including one particularly big revelation that genre aficionados won’t find hard to see coming, in tantalizing fashion. The weighty themes are handled with uncommon thoughtfulness and subtlety, with the proceedings leavened with both suspense and welcome doses of humor.
Much of the latter revolves around the matter-of-fact way in which the futuristic society is presented, with robots mingling with their human creators with relaxed ease. Alex owns an adorable robot cat who acts in appropriate feline fashion, and he’s assigned a fussily solicitous robot servant, Max (brilliantly played by Lluis Homar, the star of Almodovar’s Broken Embraces), who at one point promptly hugs Alex after being instructed to turn his “emo level” up a few notches.
The storyline revolves greatly around the tender relationship that develops between Alex and Eva, which wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without the highly impressive performance by child actress Vega, who handles the role’s considerable physical and emotional demands with astonishing assurance.
Director Maillo achieves a lot with his obviously low budget, employing subtle CGI effects to excellent effect. The performances are first rate across the board, with Bruhl’s low-key charisma perfectly suited to his introverted, intellectual character and Etura alluring as the emotionally conflicted Lana.
Production: Escandalo Films, Ran Entertainment
Cast: Claudia Vega, Daniel Bruhl, Marta Etura, Alberto Ammann, Anne Canovas, Lluis Homar
Director: Kike Maillo
Screenwriters: Sergi Belbel, Cristina Clemente, Marti Roca, Aintza Serra
Executive producers: Sergi Casamitjana, Aintza Serra, Lita Roig
Director of photography: Arnau Valls Colomer
Editor: Elena Ruiz
Costume designer: Maria Gil
Composers: Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine
No rating, 94 min.