Director: Ari Folman
Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm
Running Time: 122 mins
Release Date: August 15th
Robin Wright plays a fictionalised version of herself in Ari Folman’s follow-up to 2008’s Waltz with Bashir. A film that challenges in its second movement, The Congress takes us on a journey with Wright as an out-of-work, ageing actress, faced with a tough decision; fade into obscurity, or allow the fictional Miramount studio to digitise her character and use her digital self in whatever way they will for as long as they want, while at the same time agreeing never to act again herself.
The film opens on a close up of a teary Wright being lectured by her agent, played by Harvey Keitel, on the bad choices she has made during her career, lousy choices, in both movies and men, that have seen her washed up and living in a converted airplane hanger with her daughter and sickly son. A meeting with studio boss Danny Huston spells out the tough choice she has to make to save her career.
20 years later we revisit Wright as she drives into the desert for another meeting with the studio, this time at ‘The Futurological Congress’, where things take a turn for the outright bizarre. As she enters the grounds Wright is transformed into an animated version of herself and we are transported to a Fear and Loathing-like hallucinatory world, where people are able to become whoever they like by snorting a chemical developed by the studio. The rest of the movie defies simple explanation, but deals in the main with notions of commodification, our increasing reliance on technology, notions of ‘fame’ and the objectification and exploitation that surrounds that.
The Congress is an interesting piece, but it would be hard to describe it on the whole as entertaining. The live-action and animated pieces are so far removed from each other that they feel like two distinct movies. It would have been interesting to see it develop as a live-action film as the opening half is captivating and asks a lot of questions. The jump into animation is jarring and certainly hard work at times. If you like a linear, traditional, drama you’ll most likely feel lost in the second section, while fans of the more experimental side might find it hard to make it that far.
The movie is underpinned by excellent performances all round, and Keitel in particular should be singled out for praise, his monologues in the first part of the film real reminders of the powerhouse actor he is. While Folman is determined to make films his way, and should be lauded for that, he may leave a lot of his audience by the wayside with this outing.