The Congress

Director: Ari Forman. Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti, John Hamm, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee. France-Israel-Belgium-Poland-Luxembourg-Germany, 2013. IMDB: 6.5. My rating: 3/4. Trippy reflection about the modern world and cinema.

– Ralph, it’s dark in here or is it just in my mind?
– Everything is in our mind. If you see the dark, then you chose the dark.
(Robin Wright to a robot-bellboy)

– We at Miramount, want to… want to scan you. All of you – your body, your face, your emotion, your laughter, your tears, your climaxing, your happiness, your depressions, your… fears, longings. We want to sample you, we want to preserve you, we want… all this, this… this thing, this thing called…”Robin Wright”.
– What will you do with this… thing ? That you call Robin Wright?
– We’ll do all the things that your Robin Wright wouldn’t do.
(conversation between Jeff and Robin Wright)

Very confusing movie indeed. Both in terms of the story and structure. But I am not sure whether it would be a flaw in this case. By the way, in this review you will find more and bigger screenshots than normally. It’s worth seeing them, trust me.

The previous film of Israeli director Ari Folman “Waltz with Bashir” was much more straightforward… It was almost painful to watch because of it’s beautiful atrocity masked behind the animation, seeming simplicity and sadness. That was one of the highlights of animation of last decades for sure. By the way, it really made me think of Joy Division songs.

All right. “The Congress” is a different beast.

It’s a story of an ageing actress Robin Wright (guess who is playing her?) who once was on the peak of her fame but quickly fell out of grace because of her egoistic and short-sighted behavior. So now she is offered a new kind of contract – the last contract of her life. Probably. At least it would last 20 years and now she is in her mid 40-s. The Miramount (you know, you know?) has developed a new technology that, according to the producer (a beautifully disgusting Danny Huston), will bring to the end the era of the actors with all their silly behavior and requirements. What is that? The digitalization of the actor. Though a special scanner, the studio will create and possess the digital copy of the actor that they can use to almost any extent. It also means that the “real” Robin cannot make any movies by herself anymore. Of course, a healthy paycheck is guaranteed so she can take care of her sick son. That is the beginning of the movie, reaching 45-minute mark…

…and it starts really great! Wonderful acting from all sides. Both Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel deliver truly wonderful performances, Paul Giamatti also mentions as always a good word even his scenes are short, and I dare to say that this role could be one the bright spots in Robin Wright’s career. The first part of the movie is more slow-paced. The scene with the digitalization is enchanting, and not due to some special graphic effects (there aren’t), but because of how real human emotions (and the lack of them?) are expressed. It’s simply touching. Robin Wright (and I have mostly been neutral to her before) is outstanding. Interesting to note is that she denied completely any connection of the movie charachter with herself, hm.

But then, something happens. I don’t know how to call it, but – does Forman smoke weed? The second part of the movie is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel “The Futurological Congress”. It’s interesting to read what Ari Forman said about it in an interview before the movie was released: “There is certainly nothing based on Lem in the first part of the movie. The second part is definitely different, but I used Lem’s “The Futurological Congress” more as a source of inspiration, rather than the basis of the screenplay”. And after the release: “In many aspects I think that “The Congress” is a documentary. I only make documentaries – and sci-fi. The Congress is documentary sci-fi”.

So now the movie just in a few minutes mutates into some pure hallucinogen. Robin Wright is driving to some congress, and here you can truly see the mad genius of the director. These are so far the most trippy scenes in the animation I have ever seen. A penis shaped fish, cartoon sex scenes with nuclear explosions, Michael Jackson as your waiter creating a lobster out of nowhere, wicked version of Tom Cruise from “Top Gun”, a giant cockroach as a water bike. I won’t even try to describe it more as it will only be diminutive. It’s definitely worth seeing.

Supposedly, the story describes the human nature, how we are glued to the screen, let it be video games, movies or TV series, and entertain ourselves to mask the emptiness of our lives. Once the entertainment is mass-produced and available to everybody (there is a great scene, a giant hall with endless tables and screenwriters, creating new scripts as fast as they could 24/7), the society gets more and more sucked into a living a fake reality, only to distract sometimes to see the real world. Finally, even no movies are needed, as people are constantly inhaling drugs that substitute the world you perceive. Only few will have a chance to see the decay of the real world, while continuing to see everything in a schizophrenicly bright colours. Of course, it’s a big sinister grin to all of us.

The idea itself is great (as the novel, although it  definitely wasn’t about the entertainment industry, but rather the society model and dictatorship)! But… it just doesn’t completely match the initial story. What is has to do with the story of an ageing actress and all the digitization stuff? I know, I know, for sure there will be those who connect the dying age of real actors and it’s evolution to another form of entertainment that finally arrives to be a pure drug. But it just feels a little unnatural.The movie just changes its course so much that it’s hard to link two stories together. Two parts feel seem a little…under-fulfilled? Both stories could get better if developed more. Don’t get me wrong – it is a greatly made film with strong characters, wonderful cinematography and animation, many awesome moments. But just not all in it feels right. Sometimes I had an impression that two movies were cut and blended in one. Both could be easily developed in separated movies, especially the second part.

It’s one of those movies that once seen will leave a long-lasting mark in your memory. That doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, right? “The Congress” has a strange and eccentric approach to human nature and emotions with great ideas to reflect upon. It’s a sad and beautiful world, as said Roberto Benigni’s character in “Down by Law”.

By the way, the film required 6 years of production, it involved 6 (six!) countries and different animation studios. It was generally well received by critics (although not as well as “Waltz with Bashir” which was really noticed in 2008 and still holds 8.0 on IMDb). With $8 million budget it gained barely half a million, which is a pity. The previous film was 4 times cheaper to make and was successful in box office as well.

Worth watching? Yes, but I warned you – it’s not for everybody. Extremely trippy. Great acting and especially awesome Robin Wright. Animated scenes are something special. And it is probably the only movie on earth where you can see the wicked version of Tom Cruise from “Top Gun!”


4 thoughts on “The Congress

  1. Happy to find a review for this, although I did skim it as I badly want to see it without knowing TOO much. Absolutely love the concept (and Robin Wright). Am super annoyed that it disappeared from Amazon Prime before I had a chance to watch it… Hopefully it’ll pop up on Netflix. : ) Love the look of the images from it.

    Liked by 1 person

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