The Congress - Film Review
A self indulgent live action meets animation fantasy
Ari Folman broke new ground with his 2008 documentary Waltz with Bashir. Recounting his time as a soldier during the Lebanon war in 1982 his use of animation to tell a dark story was captivating. So when you’re watching his ambitious live action meets fantasy flick it’s all a slow-burn until the psychedelic visuals kick in.
The star of films like Forrest Gump and The Princess Bride, Robin Wright plays herself in Folman’s film based on Stanislav Lem’s trippy sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress. In it, she’s an actress who’d rather spend time with her children. Wright’s career of “lousy choices” has stalled and isn’t fulfilling the Jennifer Lawrence-like promise of her youth. But her agent (Pulp Fiction‘s Harvey Keitel) persuades her to take one last deal with slimy studio head Danny Huston. Studio ‘Miramount’ scan the actress recording her emotional responses and physical attributes so they can create a digital version to cast and control in future movies. They don’t need the real Robin anymore. The character known as Robin Wright will exist only in the studio computer and the real Robin must give up acting forever.
These early scenes are intriguing enough and heighten anticipation as the film’s second act kicks in with Wright’s entry into the “restricted animation zone” triggered by inhaling an ampule of psychotropic drugs that allow the user to experience the world as an internally projected fantasy. Wright discovers a “looney tunes playground” where junkies amp up and away from reality while inhabiting their animated avatars. In this “neo-God creation” she’s become a kick ass sci-fi hero called Rebel Robot Robin.
Getting lost yet? You will be. Like Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo, great visuals alone aren’t always enough to sustain a story and with Wright’s journey into another dimension, 20 years after she sold her image rights, it’s like Walt Disney dropped acid listening to The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’. Quirky fun for five minutes but wearing after 60.
The Congress recalls Hollywood’s previous attempts to master the mash up of live action and animation… We won’t be watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Space Jam again any time soon. There are some cheeky moments where Folman pokes fun at Tom Cruise and Grace Jones appears fleetingly in one hallucinatory episode alongside the likes of Clint Eastwood and Picasso. It all makes for a lopsided viewing experience that will be remembered as an interesting, but ultimately self indulgent, curio.
The Congress is in cinemas now.
Director: Ari Folman
Release date: 15 Aug, 2014