Rachels Don't Run

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rachels Don't Run
"Holding it all together is a heartbreaking performance by Barbieri."

There’s a growing market for robotic companions, essentially sex dolls but equipped with AIs which mean they can also provide conversation. Although at present they cost more than the average person can afford, the general expectation is that prices will go down, quality will go up and they will become more commonplace. It’s not altogether clear whether Joanny Causse’s short (co-written with Steph Kwiatkowski) is set in the present day or in the near future, but it acts as a microcosm of the concerns which this trend inspires and the wider societal shift which is might represent – if, indeed, it isn’t simply a reflection of something which has always been there in human nature.

Leah (Sera Barbieri) is working alone, late at night, as a trouble-shooter, responding to calls from customers whose companions have problems of one sort or another. At this hour, the calls are sparse, so she spends her time listening in to the conversations that customers are having with their robots. (Both Google and Amazon have admitted that conversations with their voice apps are sometimes reviewed by human staff, though they insist this is rare.) In a moment of acute loneliness, she switches one of the robots to manual and begins talking, through it, to a customer whose conversation she feels she can relate to. In a different type of film, this might be the start of a romance, but what follows does not go the way Leah hoped.

An unforgiving exploration of what some people do and don’t want from their partners, Rachels Don’t Run implies that it might actually be easier to get into or maintain a relationship if one isn’t human. There is some tentative criticism of long hours culture, manifest both in Leah’s loneliness and in a comment about what one might want to come home to after a long day. There is also a cutting awareness of the reductive attitudes to women which persist in our society, and of the harm they do. Holding it all together is a heartbreaking performance by Barbieri, whose face does the talking whilst her voice remains professional. Leah isn’t just a woman faced with the reality of a man’s desires – she’s a human being faced with the reality of a world which leaves precious little room for that.

Screening as part of Fantasia 2021, this brief and delicate film uses all of Barbieri’s communicative skill to ask us how sincere we really are about wanting to communicate with anybody.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2021
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While monitoring late-night calls at an AI companionship service, lonely customer support agent Leah impersonates an artificial dream girl to chat with the regular caller for whom she's developed feelings.

Director: Joanny Causse

Writer: Joanny Causse, Steph Kwiatkowski

Starring: Sera Barbieri, Anthony Shipway, Nora Tjossem

Year: 2021

Runtime: 10 minutes

Festivals:

Fantasia 2021

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