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Spike Jonze's 'Her', the real passions of virtual love

US director Spike Jonze poses for photographers as he arrives for the premiere of the film 'Her'' during the 8th Rome International Film Festival on November 10, 2013
US director Spike Jonze poses for photographers as he arrives for the premiere of the film "Her'' during the 8th Rome International Film Festival on November 10, 2013

US director Spike Jonze's latest flick "Her", in competition at Rome's film festival this week, is a witty, poignant tale of love between a man and a disembodied voice which explores the staggering potential of technology but also its limits.

The film, which had its European premiere at the festival on Sunday, sees lonely, Los-Angeles-based Theodore -- played by Joaquin Phoenix of "Gladiator" and "Walk the Line" fame -- get a new operating system on his phone which answers daily questions and promises to be his ideal virtual companion.

Decked out in hipster tweed and velvet outfits, Theodore is quickly smitten by the seductive voice of Samantha -- played by Scarlett Johansson ("Lost in Translation" and "Match Point") -- who sensually wishes him good morning and goodnight and tells him he has new mail.

With no past or history, she wants to "learn everything", while he discovers she brings colour back into his life with "the way you look at the world."

Set in the near future, in a world where voice recognition is common currency and people talk constantly into their earpieces, technology offers to fill in a void left by a broken marriage, but cannot bridge the ultimate gap -- physical affection.

Actress Rooney Mara (L), director Spike Jonze, actress Scarlett Johansson, and actor Joaquin Phoenix pose for a photograph as they arrive for the premiere of the film 'Her'' during the 8th Rome International Film Festival on November 10, 2013
Actress Rooney Mara (L), director Spike Jonze, actress Scarlett Johansson, and actor Joaquin Phoenix pose for a photograph as they arrive for the premiere of the film "Her'' during the 8th Rome International Film Festival on November 10, 2013

Theodore's job as a professional writer of love letters for others falls gradually by the wayside as he takes his new flame on walks in the countryside or to the mall and opens up his soul to the clever, increasingly empathetic voice.

After a night of tender passion, she asks him "can I watch you sleep?", to which he replies "I'll dream of you."

As Samantha becomes seemingly ever more human, Theodore's infatuation risks getting out of hand, but the film shies away from offering a moral reading of the post-modern relationship which saw Phoenix and Johansson perform a love story without meeting on set.

The unusual, hotly-anticipated romantic drama was well received by critics in Italy's Eternal City.

"Technology cannot be the best way to express feelings but if it's the only way, it's better than nothing," Jonze told a press conference in Rome.

The Academy Award winner for "Being John Malkovich" described how he had chosen to focus more on romance than on technology.

"Each shot is based on their lives as a couple. We all want to be loved for what we are but, at the same time, we are afraid. Each time we fall in love it's a risk we take," he said.

"In the film we tried to look at some of the needs, fears and expectations we have in relationships. Samantha is programmed to evolve and once she is launched there is no limit as to what she can do or become," he added.

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