Giorgio and Agatha have recently lost their only child. In the wake of their overwhelming grief, Giorgio contacts a foundation that offers psychological support in the form of Tob.ia, a highly advanced robot in the form of a child.
When Tobi.ia arrives at the couple's home, it exposes the growing rift between Giorgio and Agatha, who handle their grief very differently. Agata cannot accept Tob.ia, seeing the robot as an interloper. She slowly develops a kind of relationship with Tob.ia despite herself, though each step forward seems to remind her of her loss in increasingly destabilizing ways.
Written and directed by Emanuele Sana, this penetrating short sci-fi drama examines the unique journey of profound grief. Psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously delineated five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Giorgio and Agata begin the film in two different places, and Agata in particular seems to be stuck somewhere around anger, cutting her off from the world and her husband.
When the support robot arrives, it sparks hostility from Agata. Tob.ia is a curious creation: its wide eyes are childlike, innocent and uncanny. It learns quickly but moves with a touching slowness. It learns to pick up its toys, but it has no emotional reactions to Agata, merely repeating her words back to her at times. It's not truly a child, and Agata berates it for trying to replace her son.
Trying to recreate a child is impossible, but that's not the point of the robot or the narrative at large. As Agata both embraces and pushes away her support robot, the story subtly explores emotionally sophisticated ideas through the questions that arise with artificial intelligence. What does it mean to love? What role can these machines play in our emotional lives?
Actor Rosa Diletta Rossi's performance as Agata beautifully brings to life many of these questions as she works through the devastation of her grief. And through the complicated dance of moving through her grief while accepting this new influence in her life, she discovers a new emotional frontier.
With graceful storytelling and elegant restraint, "Tob.ia" is a powerful embodiment of the idea that grief isn't just pain -- it's unexpressed love that has nowhere to go yet. By its end, with its final resonant shot, it is a moving testament to the human heart and its capacity to love deeply and expand. Tob.ia is not a substitute for a lost child and never will be, but it becomes a new home for a mother's unspent love.