Robot Dreams, from Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger, is a delicate animated film utterly unlike any other.
It is a poignant love story without words, set in a 1980s New York populated by cartoon animals, its hero a lonely dog, called simply Dog.
Dog lives alone in a small studio apartment, eating sad microwave dinners every night while he watches TV and peers across at his neighbours’ living rooms, envying their friends and families.
Then he sees an infomercial for a companion robot and orders one online.
Once assembled and booted up, the robot smiles and there is an instant connection.
Robot transforms Dog’s life.
Together the two friends explore the vibrant city, eating sidewalk hot dogs, watching fireworks on Brooklyn Bridge and joyfully rollerskating in Central Park to the tune of Earth, Wind and Fire’s September.
Berger’s New York is lovingly created in stunning detail, bringing to life the city of the ’80s, with pay phones, video stores and the familiar sight of the Twin Towers on the skyline.
Dog and Robot take a trip to Ocean Beach. The day starts as blissfully as all their days together, as they marvel at the underwater life, then peacefully doze in the sunshine.
But tragedy strikes when it’s time to go. Robot cannot move. His joints have rusted and he is too heavy for Dog to shift, though he tries with all his might.
Finally Dog is forced to leave Robot on the beach while he goes home to get some tools.
When he returns next day he is shocked to find the beach is closed for the season, his way barred by high fencing topped by barbed wire.
Desperately Dog tries to force his way through the locked gate. He is arrested and ends up in gaol.
He tries to fill the months without Robot by looking for new companions, celebrating Halloween, building a snowman, befriending a duck.
Robot, left alone on the beach through a bitter winter, has vivid dreams where he fantasises about being reunited with his soulmate.
In the end, they both find happiness, though it’s not what we expect.
Robot Dreams, based on a graphic novel by Sara Varon, is a bittersweet tale of love found and lost – sometimes confusing but a wonderful work of animated art.
Robot Dreams, in the Perth Festival Lotterwest film program, is currently showing at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium until December 24.
Watch the trailer…