A movie review of “Eva”: This Spanish science-fiction film deals with “emo” robots. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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It’s possible to tell a sci-fi story about the coming age of sentient machines without a “Chappie”-size budget, or turning “Chappie” insipid.

“Eva” is a modestly chilling if predictable Spanish science-fiction film about “emo” robots. A 2011 vehicle for polylingual leading man Daniel Brühl (“Rush”), it’s obsessed with that one great robotic concern in sci-fi — the ineffable extra “something” that makes us human.

Brühl plays Alex, a robot scientist who returns home to the northern Spanish university town where he grew up, a city that’s become a center for robot research and production.

Movie Review ★★  

‘Eva,’ with Daniel Brühl, Marta Etura, Alberto Ammann, Claudia Vega. Directed by Kike Maíllo, from a screenplay by Sergi Belbel, Cristina Clemente, Martí Roca and Aintza Serra. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Spanish, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.

He’s there to help the local college, where his brother (Alberto Ammann) and ex-girlfriend (Marta Etura) teach.

His mission? Help finish a prototype child robot that the school has been fiddling with. The plan is to model this ninth iteration of a sentient robot on a real boy. But Alex thinks “boys are boring.”

Then he spies Eva. Played by Claudia Vega, she is anything but boring. Precocious, beguiling and playful, this 10-year-old notices Alex staring at her and flings an instant nickname at him.

“Pervert.”

She’s perfect.

The film does have one utterly brilliant conceit, one the film returns to, again and again.

What one question would constitute the difference between a person, with memories and emotions, and a machine?

“What do you see when you close your eyes?”

“Eva” isn’t surprising enough to break new ground. But the cast, the gorgeous wintry setting and suggestion of a tech future that is closer than we fear make it a most watchable variation on a well-worn sci-fi theme.