Sheila is a mother whose daughter Julia is deployed to a faraway location as part of the military. They keep in touch via VR video messages, and Sheila also combs through her VR to relive certain memories from the past, partly as a way to allay her fears about her daughter's deployment.
Her daughter sends her an android named MELO as a gift for Christmas, who helps her around the house, cooking and doing chores. The robot is primarily domestic help at first. But when Sheila hits a moment of crisis, Melo becomes something more.
Written and directed by Stephan Eigenmann, this sci-fi short is a family drama at its heart, where a parent worries helplessly over a child, no matter how old they are. Told with a guileless, straightforward style that emphasizes feeling and relationships, it has a warmly ordinary look and feel, with lived-in domestic interiors that don't seem so different from life today. But there's genuine heartbreak within the coziness, as well as comfort from an unexpected place.
Within this everyday milieu, the story's sci-fi touches are tucked away among the furniture and stacks of books and papers; the VR machines and android are simply part of the daily stuff of life. The film doesn't aspire to the high-gloss sheen of contemporary sci-fi, and MELO himself has a charmingly retro and very approachable feel.
Instead, the storytelling uses MELO's relative status as a blank slate to explore universal questions of love, bonding and family. As MELO integrates into Sheila's daily life, he's initially more like a housekeeper, and Sheila herself is preoccupied with poring over her old memories of her beloved daughter.
But as the robot sets about learning more about his family, Sheila starts to relate to MELO more as a companion. Actor Sheila Traister's performance has a natural warmth, emanating a welcoming kindness that makes it quite touching when those qualities are aimed towards the robot. When Sheila gets some devastating news, MELO is left to his own devices while Sheila grieves -- and that's when he learns what it is to love deeply.
Many sci-fi stories about androids and robots are explorations of what it means to be human, as the life-like machine learns about the world and the people within it. In that sense, "Rewind" falls into its genre easily, as MELO explores and observes the deep trove of memories and attachments that Sheila has for Julia. But this is also Sheila's story as a mother -- a parent who suffers a devastating loss, but also one who takes another being in hand and shows them what life is about, sharing memories and care. MELO comes to understand just why Sheila is so heartbroken, understanding her sorrow almost as his own. And through learning empathy, the robot can be at Sheila's side, offering comfort and perhaps even love of his own.