The Trouble with Being Born

DRAMA; 1hr 34min (German with subtitles)

STARRING: Lena Watson, Dominik Warta, Ingrid Burkhard

Little girl lost: Watson

Poolside in the grounds of a lushly secluded European home, a father and his elfin 10-year-old daughter are whiling away the day. Like children everywhere, the little girl (Watson as Elli) is reluctant to leave the water. But Elli is not a human child and when her “Papa” (Warta) discovers her floating lifelessly, his reaction — “Fuck. Not again.” — is hardly paternal. Why would it be when Elli is Papa’s android? Expressionless and other worldly, she is programmed for 24/7 devotion in bed and out, and reviving her is as easy as patience and a smartphone.


No matter how protected Watson was during filming (nothing explicit takes place, she wears a silicone mask and a wig, her nudity is CGI and her name is a pseudonym), the sexualisation of any child is a massive red flag. But the core issue here for filmmaker Sandra Wollner is the minefield of interpersonal control, however that may manifest, and her handle on it is the watchful, sombre opposite of sensational. Papa is a tinder-dry stick; his inner life, such as it must be, is barely sketched, leaving Wollner and her co-writer, Roderick Warich, to zero in on Elli’s inconceivable plight. Ensnared in Papa’s broken loop of remembrance and resurrection, as the double for his actual, lost daughter, she is his helpless prisoner.


A stretch to process as that is, it’s Elli’s second incarnation as Emil, the long-dead brother of a churlish older woman (Burkhard as Ms Schikowa) that skews into the exponentially bizarre. As if s/he hasn’t endured enough, the android must now shoulder the guilt-laden burden of Ms Schikowa’s miserable past, for in Wollner’s soulless world, technology is enslaved by its users — which in turn begs the enduring question of when sentient life might potentially be triggered in a machine. This isn’t a trailblazing angle: the demonic HAL, for one, was all over it in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But now more than ever, its implications cast a flesh-creeping shadow.