Cannes 2023: 'Robot Dreams' is a Delightful Animated New York Story

May 21, 2023

Robot Dreams

One of the surprise animated films premiering at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival this year is called Robot Dreams, a Spanish production made by Catalan filmmaker named Pablo Berger. The delightful animated movie is an entirely dialogue-free story set in the 1980s in New York City, following a dog character known simply as "DOG" as he builds a relationship with his new robot friend. This is Pablo Berger's first animated film, after making the features Blancanieves and Abracadabra previously. It's a super sweet, uplifting story about friendship and even though there's not a single spoken word in the entire 90 minute film, it's still captivating throughout anyway. It's one of these off-beat discoveries from a film festival that I'm glad I took the time to watch. And more good news - Neon has already acquired the film for a US release later in 2023.

It's set in NYC in the 80s, with a simple 2D animation style that reminds me of "Futurama" (one of my all-time favorite shows). There is an exceptional amount of detail in every frame - carefully & clearly rendered. The film drifts around through New York and stops by almost every famous landmark or popular place to go on a date, from Central Park to Coney Island to traveling up the Hudson. There are also plenty of fun 80s references, including 80s horror films and a RadioShack and all kinds of other Easter Eggs to discover. The story starts out like Spike Jonze's Her - Dog is lonely so he decides to order and build a robot friend to make him less lonely. They have the best time together and explore the city and their happiness blossoms. While Berger states that the story is about a "friendship" it certainly seems to be about a romantic relationship, though there's no physical intimacy depicted. One day while at the beach, the robot gets rusty and ends up stuck in the sand. He tries to remove him but can't, with the beach closing for winter. As time goes by the film becomes a lesson in learning how to move on when a relationship is over and how we rebuild ourselves.

Robot Dreams is as much about loneliness as it about companionship, and how we connect to others and reconnect and grow through relationships - even if they don't last. It perfectly captures the city experience of life in NYC with heaps of cute charm. It is absolutely a movie for everyone of any age, though I think adults will understand and connect with its story more than kids. Don't be put off by the lack of dialogue, as it's both an artistic exercise in minimal filmmaking (similar to The Red Turtle - which also played in Cannes) and a way to keep the wholesome story focused and pure. It's just so adorable and whimsical, with a lot of good comedy worked right into many of the scenes anyway. It held my attention, and I never once got tired of watching this and wondering where Dog would end up next. My only quirk is that, instead of "making" or finding this robot, he has to order him - which seems a bit awkward but I'll let it slide. Above all, it's a film that reflects our experiences back upon us, reminding us to appreciate the relationships we have had and we will have. It is absolutely worth taking a trip back through 80s New York City with Dog and his robo friend.

Alex's Cannes 2023 Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd - @firstshowing

Find more posts: Animation, Cannes 23, Review



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