The CongressLondon Film Festival 2013
Thursday 10th October, 9.00pm – Vue West End, Screen 5
Friday 11th October, 6.10pm – Screen on the Green
Saturday 12th October, 3pm – Vue West End, Screen 5
Lewis Carroll’s canonical Alice in Wonderland is a rambling diaspora of causally unrelated madness. The Congress – Ari Folman’s hotly-anticipated follow up to 2008’s Waltz with Bashir – may not be intended for children but, like Alice in Wonderland, confuses free association with creativity.
Robin Wright plays herself: an out-of-work, unreliable actress. Slithery movie producer Jeff (Danny Huston) offers her one last contract: to digitise her image and splice it onto a computer generated avatar. 20 years later Wright’s contract is up for renewal; she travels to the animated city of Abrahama where a futuristic congress is happening. Here she discovers thousands of people who live their lives in this self-editing animated dream-reality, becoming caught up in it herself.
Loopy, incoherent and with all the restraint of a feral child in a sweet shop, The Congress is what happens when you let loose creativity without focus. Descriptive programme notes suggest that the more nonsensical sequences in the animated world are actually hallucinations. There is one glaring problem with this: it isn’t in the actual film. Hidden depths are laudable, but if the urtext is inscrutable without guidance then the story is flawed – and deeply so.
Unfortunately so is the dialogue. Stultifyingly po-faced lines such as: “There’s no more ego – thanks to chemistry we’ve been reborn” are commonplace. Even the animation is bland and characterless in comparison with the sumptuous Waltz with Bashir.
And yet there are positive elements in The Congress. The live action sections are well-acted and beautifully shot; Paul Giamatti is reliably superb as Wright’s son’s ELT doctor, while the animated caricatures of Tom Cruise, Grace Jones and even the apple-headed man from Magritte’s The Son of Man painting provide welcome comic relief. It is possible, even, that the entire film is a commentary on mental illness – Wright is unreliable, forgets things and loses track both of time and herself once in Abrahama. Could The Congress be a point of view account of an unhinged actress struggling with Alzheimer’s subsumed by technology she can’t understand? Possibly, but it’s a stretch.
The Congress is big on intention and, like Marmite, will divide audiences. For lovers, its unbridled creativity is inspirational. For haters, the film is proof that when trying to be profound you mostly end up being precisely the opposite.
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