The best science fiction stories will often be those that explore social and political aspects of the world we live in, while often trying to extrapolate where we as a people may end up in the future, and now with director Lazar Bodroža’s R-rated science fiction thriller, we get a film that not only does this but also answers the question, “What would happen if you fell in love with HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?”
Based on a 1980s short story by Zoran Neskovic, A.I. Rising (also known as Ederlezi Rising) is set in a socialist dystopian future some fifty years from now, where corporations are apparently setting up colonies on Alpha Centauri. Astronaut Milutin (Sebastian Cavazza), a veteran cosmonaut with numerous trips to Mars under his belt, is sent on a long space flight to deliver an ideology to the colony there, and along for the ride is Nimani (Stoya), an android designed to respond to the cosmonaut’s desires, who will also work as nurse, psychiatrist and to keep him focused on the mission, as well as being the perfect sex toy to Milutin.
As we are first introduced to Milutin, we see a man without much humanity left — there are hints of past failed relationships that may have driven him into space — and his treatment of Nimani as a “fuck toy” will not have many viewers on his side. The Ederlezi Corporation has programmed the android with many subroutines that Milutin can access through a variety of drop-down menus, “Do you want a naïve woman, one who is new to sex?” A click of a button later, and you have a coquettish girl who you can then rape to spice things up. Or you can choose the “Argumentative” setting which can then be followed quickly by the “Make-Up Sex” designation, all to fill out any particular fantasy you could come up with, and being this is a long space voyage, I can “sorta” understand the variety being important. But the moral quandaries of this situation aren’t lost on Milutin, and it’s his decision to emancipate Nimani that becomes the key arc of the story, which leads to such questions as “Can artificial intelligence move beyond its programming into pure self-awareness and sentience?”
Lazar Bodroža’s A.I. Rising is a science fiction gem that explores themes that have been addressed in such films as Metropolis and Blade Runner, yet done here with a graphic flair all its own. That Bodroža is a visual artist-turned-director is quite apparent when you see just how beautiful this film looks — from the smart use of Belgrade’s socialist architecture to the wonderful sets and costumes provided by Aljosa Spajic and Senka Kljakic. But what makes this film stand out from its many predecessors is the characters on hand, who are so amazingly brought to life in what is basically a two-person stage play — we do get a couple of scenes with an Ederlezi corporate “Social Engineer” (Marusa Majer), but 90% of the film is about the interactions between Milutin and Nimani — and Sebastian Cavazza gives a very thought-provoking portrayal of a broken man trying to be better, a character who audiences will have, at times, problems sympathizing with. Then we have Stoya’s wonderful acting as the android Nimani and her ability to switch personalities on a dime is a tour de force of acting, with Nimani being the film’s rational and emotional driving force as Milutin’s many flaws and delusions are exposed.
This film will certainly not be for everybody, its languid pacing mixed with overt sexuality will not be to everyone’s tastes, but it does explore some very pertinent themes that are becoming more and more relevant each and every day as it tackles serious relationship issues between men and women in the guise of a science fiction movie. It’s also great to see the Siberian film industry producing such quality gems, giving Hollywood a run for its money. I would recommend this film solely on the basis of how gorgeous it looks, with its collections of amazing shots of the ship gliding through deep space, but it’s the heart of the story, and the acting on display here, that makes this a film not to be missed.
A.I. Rising (2018)
Movie Rank - 7.5/10
Fans of the genre will not want to miss out on this science fiction gem, director Lazar Bodroža has crafted a film that not only looks amazing but tells a thought-provoking story in a very original way.