Ari Folman’s bold movie, The Congress, is a bizarre and trippy envisioning of a future where celebrities flog their “essence” to big movie studios, and the only way of escaping the filthy truth of reality is to down hallucinogenic cocktails.
The film states that it is based on Stanislaw Lem’s The Futurological Congress but instead of communist leaders it’s the Hollywood film industry that’s taken over the world as we know it. Robin Wright plays herself as an out-of-work actress who is constantly criticised for staying at home with her disabled son and not making good on her promising career.
It seems the only way out for Wright is to sell her “scan” to production company Miramount who will sample her, essentially making her a character who they own. Wright is then free to become a nobody and focus her attention on her son. 20years later and we see her in animation zone Abrahama, where her alter-ego is still known as a massive star.
The film is certainly ambitious and it’s crammed full of ideas and tricks. However, the constant switching from live actors to drawn characters and from fantasy to reality means that we are left with an intangible jumble of sci-fi that it is impossible to draw meaning from. The film goes on hallucinogenic tangents, where hands turn into wings and quite frankly, no one knows what’s going on. Although its bizarreness is always interesting, the philosophical reflections grow tiring after a while and the audience wearies of its excessive weirdness.
Wright gives a consistently strong performance throughout, playing an ageing animated character just as well as a young mum juggling her career with a disabled son. Her performance is subtle yet emotive and she brings a sense of serenity to the somewhat incoherent plot line.
There is no denying that this film is a bold strike by Folman; the director seems to want to show audiences that he is not limited to the Israel-specific context of his stunning film Waltz with Bashir, released in 2008. However, it’s as if he uses The Congress to try and showcase all his skills at once, leaving us ultimately with an enigma of a film that is impossible to unravel.
The Congress is released nationwide on 10th August 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Congress here: