Film Review: The Congress

UntitledDirected by Ari Folman

Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm

Six years later, Ari Folman’s long-anticipated follow up to the stirring Waltz With Bashir is a departure from the intensely personal animated war memoir, opting instead for themes so sprawling and universal, they will, in the words of the director ‘break your mind.’

For fans of the high concept, they do not come much higher than this. Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is an ageing Hollywood actress, living (symbolically) in an aircraft hangar with her two children. Whether it was motherhood, Hollywood or, as she’s accused of throughout the film, her own terrible decision making. Wright’s thirties have been significantly less fruitful for her career than her twenties were. She is now presented by Miramount studios with the opportunity to have herself scanned into a machine that can generate infinite computer-generated films starring a much younger and more co-operative Robin Wright. In a cutting observation of the Hollywood machine, she is given very little choice in the matter and, despite her reservations, the scan goes ahead.

Twenty years later, Wright swallows a capsule that allows her to visit the animated world of The Futurological Congress. Inspired by the Stanislaw Lem novel of the same name, The Congress is assembled to announce that the technology Miramount used to scan Robin Wright has surpassed motion pictures and entered the world of pharmaceuticals, allowing them to sell not just an image, but a physical experience.

Throughout the live-action first chapter, Robin Wright delivers a captivating portrait of middle age and motherhood. Her constant battle with the wonderfully sinister Hollywood exec Jeff (Danny Huston) is a graceful depiction of a beauty reluctant to fade in a world that no longer deems it beautiful.

But sadly the ‘Yellow Submarine’ style animation is completely nauseating. Similar to watching some of Terry Gilliam’s boldest work, you may find that you’re so busy having your mind blown, you totally lose track of the massive themes being rammed down your throat with every semiologically saturated frame. The animated avatars at the conference are rendered in a subtly amorphous way and their lip-sync is at once over complicated and jarringly clumsy, resulting in an aesthetic that will leave you rubbing your eyes every ten seconds.

A stylistically strong start descends into visual and thematic mayhem as the plot thickens into treacle. Many viewers will stay with the undoubted genius right the way through, but many, my lightweight self included, will bow out at the sheer sensory overload, hopefully taking on at least a couple of the myriad lessons Folman is trying to teach us


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