Love & Engineering: Tribeca Review

Peter Flinckenberg
Doc about "hacking" love is more amusing than enlightening.

Finnish engineers make themselves subjects in dating-technique experiments.

NEW YORK — A handful of nearly hopeless nerds attempt to control women like computers in Love & Engineering, Tonislav Hristov's second doc about the love lives of men who have very little experience dealing with the opposite sex. Though sympathetic to its subjects' dubious plan, the Finnish film recognizes their comic potential, earning a few laughs without quite mocking them. Theatrical prospects beyond the fest circuit are limited, but video could benefit from word-of-mouth online, where certain communities may see themselves in the film's heroes but think they can do a better job.

Atanas Boev, a doughy man with a speech impediment, serves as the group's ringleader: Having succeeded in trapping his own mate and fathering a child, he sits some friends down to share "the secret weapons of the pickup masters." He quickly proves more earnest than that caddish slogan suggests, though he and his friends do possess some outdated notions about relationships. (One says that since he owns a cleaning robot, a prospective mate would have nothing to clean but the toilet.) He's trying to steer them toward marriage, not a one-night-stand, and all his talk of "hacking" male-female encounters — figuring out what these mysterious creatures want, then doing exactly that until love is achieved — is presented as necessary trickery.

Hristov never offers any context for Boev's project, and as it grows more resource-intensive (using eye-motion-tracking machines, electrode-wired gear, and in-ear radio transmitters) viewers may wish they knew if, say, a university was funding all this. Outside scientists drop by for meetings, but in general we suspect that many of these laboratory toys are being used by men who don't know much about conducting research with living subjects.

Field experiments afford most of the film's interest. Watch, as a man who has established that his date cares nothing about video games proceeds to elucidate how Mass Effect 3 improves upon its predecessor. Gasp in astonishment at the adult who decides wearing a naval uniform will help him stand out from the speed-dating crowd, then makes this Captain-and-Tennille garb his regular nightclub attire. Bite your nails when Todor Vlaev, the group's most nearly cool member, actually convinces a pretty blonde to go out with him more than once — will he manage not to scare her away?

Boev offers intermittent voiceover, sharing what he believes are the objective rules he has uncovered about dating, but little of what we see backs him up. More than anything, his guinea pigs seem to benefit from simple exposure to the women who agreed to participate in Boev's experiments.

How were those patient women recruited, we wonder, and what did they think of the experience afterward? The movie doesn't say. But it does offer enough post-mortem reflection with Vlaev to show that some of these self-styled love hackers looked at the same evidence Boev gathered and came to wholly different conclusions.

Production: Making Movies, Filmtank, Agitprop

Director: Tonislav Hristov

Screenwriters: Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho

Producers: Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg, Thomas Tielsch, Martichka Bozhilova

Director of photography: Peter Flinckenberg

Editor: Nikolai Hartmann

Music: Petar Dundakov

Sales: Films Transit International

Not Rated, 84 minutes