“The Congress” – a film review by Gary Chew
How would you like to see Robin Wright in a picture that has the talented star playing Robin Wright? As herself, the script places Robin in a split between delusional and real mental states? You’ll have to look for it but, as The Truth is for Mulder and Scully, “The Congress” is also out there.
That’s the bland title of this film by Israeli writer, film score composer and director, Ari Folman. It was released this spring. An earlier film by Folman is the award-winner “Waltz With Bashir.”
A science-fiction novel by the Polish author Stanislaw Lem titled “The Futurological Congress” gave rise to Folman’s “The Congress” screenplay. The book is an allegory of communist dictatorship that sets up well for Folman’s creation to parrot what might be called authoritarianism in the entertainment business; more specifically the American motion picture industry.
Wright is an aging, famous film star who’s approached by a fictitious movie studio producer called Jeff Green and played by the marvelously oleaginous Danny Houston. “Miramount” wants Robin to sell film rights to her digital image using a multitude of body scans of Wright that the studio would shoot then use in perpetuity to make new films with her at a never-ending “good” age for moviegoers. She would receive a gigantic sum of money, but could never act again on film or stage.
Robin’s fictitious manager Al is played by the astounding “don’t-f#*k-with-me guy” Harvey Keitel. Paul Giamatti plays Dr. Barker, her fictitious physician. Her children are not played by her real offspring. and the script doesn’t use their actual names.
Robin’s real mental state is shot live-action. Her delusional state is in a fantastical animation with every principle character in the live-action caricatured in the animated sequences.
In the later animation sequences, and twenty years later in the script, “Miramount” has acquired newer technology that makes it possible for anybody to be transformed into an animated avatar and become anything he or she wants to be. Jeff Green’s big studio wants the freedom to sell Robin’s image to anyone who has the money and desire to become a “Robin Wright.” Such a desire in anyone surely speaks volumes about a society, I would think.
While watching “The Congress” I was reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam, Philp K. Dick, Antoine de Exupery, William Burroughs and the Beatles on their “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” trip. You might think of others.
It’s a wild ride that begins on an inauspicious note, with Houston and Keitel holding forth in much of the live action and the artists who’ve created the animation blowing the mind of anyone who favors visual fantasy. Live-action and animation are approximately half and half. Caution, though, for young people who may see “The Congress”: there is one animated scene that gently depicts Wright having sex with an animated male character — minus specificity. Otherwise, the visual coast for the young folks is clear.