Describing emotional connection as a measurable cocktail of chemicals that affects the brain might not be the best way into another person’s heart. In a scenario in which every mannerism and facial expression must be understood in terms of hard facts and scientific numerical values, there is little room for spontaneous reactions. In an effort to help other men like him whose careers in the stoic world of engineering have hinder their social skills preventing them from successfully finding a partner, Atanas Boev, a Bulgarian 3D engineer living in Finland, sets up a romance workshop of sorts. Boev’s quirky field experiments and the four geeks that serve as subjects are at the center of Tonislav Hristov’s documentary Love and Engineering.
It is true, these guys need all the help they can get to get out of their shells, but why should they listen to their new love professor? Well, Boev begins by explaining that he was on the same boat. Overly focused on his career he forgot to seek human interaction with the opposite sex, until he decided it was time for him to find his match and reproduce. Not the subtlest or must touching reasoning to go on a date, but is one that fits his pragmatic behavior. After successfully marrying and fathering a child, Boev felt the need to pay it forward and mentor his fellow single nerds. Background regarding the purposes of his “studies” beyond finding them a girlfriend is never given, which is strange, but it doesn’t take away from the playful tone of the film.
In his role of resourceful scientific wingman he exposes his four pupils to the object of their anxiety: women. They go to nightclubs and speed-dating events as a way to develop a sense of confidence in them. For one of them, Markus, this becomes the perfect opportunity to create an alter ego. He dresses up as a sailor and uses the dapper look as an icebreaker, this seems to work much better than his typical references to computer games - which tend to alienate the prospective date. Perhaps impersonating an someone from an entirely different profession is not the ideal approach, but at least it gives the man a chance. Then there are Andon and Thomas, who don’t really get a long. The former is a testosterone-fueled angry man who appears a bit jealous of the latter’s short-lived success with the ladies.
Out of this pack of hopeless non-romantics, the one that stands out as being closer to the “cool” wavelength is Todor. Friendly and more assertive than the rest, he manages to actually find a girlfriend, go on dates with her, and experience first hand the agony of rejection. By forcing them to spend time outside of the digital world, Boev at least provides them with an opportunity to change and decide how much of an effort they want to make not to be lonely. He pushes them to dance, to tell jokes, and to unavoidably make mistakes in the quest to sharpen their pick-up moves.
Nevertheless, all these exercises are underscored with the intention to find rational answers. The researcher wants a formula; a pattern that repeats itself and that can be manipulated to produce consistent results. When a female engineer is briefly brought into the picture, their systematic approach to seduction is put into question. Love & Engineering is not a grand piece of filmmaking; it’s not incredibly insightful about the human condition or full of revelatory discoveries. However, it succeeds at being a small and engaging look at these likeable men’s mission to find companionship. They are insecure but relatable people who are at least trying, whether that merits a feature film to be depicted is another question, but at least it is enjoyable enough. The lesson is, of course, that even when cutting-edge technology is available, there is no surefire scientific method to reveal all the complex and immeasurable factors that conform the intoxicating feeling of being in love.