The Congress review

"The Congress"

The split between live-action and animation in Ari Folman’s The Congress, his follow-up to Waltz With Bashir, is a bold choice but one that seems a little hard to understand. It appears motivated by the desire to show the contrast between two worlds, but this a point made that is so simplistic that one reaches for something else to derive some other sense of purpose beyond the obvious binarism.

Beginning in the ‘real world’ The Congress features Robin Wright playing a fictionalised version of herself. The movie Wright – who from now on I shall just refer to as Wright – is struggling to find any parts and also with her son, who is suffering from a degenerative disease.

Wright is approached by her agent, Harvey Keitel in some oddly excessive make-up, to meet with the head of Miramount Studios and discuss a new technology. This new process creates a digital scan of an actor so that the studio can then make any film they want with them, manipulating them however they see fit. The actor gets paid for the scan and must agree to not act again, for the reminder of the contract. Wright agrees to a twenty year contract and submits to the scan.

The film then flashes forward and we see Wright attend a Futurological Congress – the book is based on Stanislaw Lem’s book Futurological Congress – in which Miramount will showcase the next step, a technology which allows people to actually ‘become’ the actor.

The Futurological Congress, and what spirals off from it, is all animated, the bright visuals making clear the idea that this is a fantasy world which contrasts the now more desolate and depressing outside world.

The animated world and its inhabitants, obsessed with the fantasy lives of others and projecting a manufactured version of themselves, appears to be a crude attempt to make a point about modern society and to some degree Hollywood. It’s seems at every turn to be ever more lightweight, ill-conceived and ill-informed, like the immature Baudrillardian ideas in The Matrix colliding with someone complaining about the “youth of today and their computers”.

For what it’s worth Robin Wright is stunning in the many roles that she has to play and this, combined with the fictionalised autobiography of an actress unable to get good parts, highlighted how few times we’ve seen Wright given the chance to really shine.

As a platform to relaunch Robin Wright’s career The Congress will probably prove somewhat effective but as an interesting film with a point to make it not so much stumbles as rolls head over heels down a hill and off a cliff.

This review was originally posted at Bleeding Cool