[Film Review] The Congress (2013)

The Congress poster

Title: The Congress
Year: 2013
Country: Israel, Germany, Poland
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Sci-Fi, Drama
Director: Ari Folman
Ari Folman
Stanislaw Lem
Music: Max Richter
Cinematography: Michal Englert
Robin Wright
Harvey Keitel
Danny Huston
Kodi Smit-McPhee
Jon Hamm
Sami Gayle
Paul Giamatti
Michael Stahl-David
Michael Landes
Sarah Shahi
Christopher B. Duncan
Rating: 6.0/10

The Congress 1

Israeli director Ari Folman’s fourth film, THE CONGRESS is the much anticipated follow-up after his Oscar-nominated animation-documentary WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008), which to my ruefulness I have yet to watch, since I am eternally lagging in the field of documentaries, let alone a war documentary.

THE CONGRESS has an intrinsically distinctive allure of its own because it is a film creatively amalgamate live-action with animation, and inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s Sci-Fi novel THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS, it ambitiously challenges to handle a thornier theme of human race’s incorrigible addiction to chemicals which ultimately erase all one egos than it appears to suggest, a showbiz industry ageism satire and the advance of technology which foreshadows the doom of the line of actor (which both FINALE FANTSY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN 2001, and the film itself can justify at least for now, animation cannot replace real actors, live-capture may be a more probable contrivance).

Generally, the film can be divided into 3 chapters each with 20 years apart. The first one is in the present, Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, an actress shares her filmography (namedropping her two most well-known roles in THE PRINCESS BRIDE 1987 and FORREST GUMP 1994) but not her personal life (Sean Pean is never mentioned here), a middle-age actress past her crest and is infamous for being uncooperative and finicky; she is raising her two children Sara (Gayle) and Aaron (Smit-McPhee) by herself, the latter is conditioned with aggravating hearing disabilities but is keen on aviation and loves kite-flying. So after weighing the pros and cons and the persuasion from her agent Al (Keitel), she accepts a final contract from Miramount studio (a conglomerate of Miramax + Paramount) to digitalize all her emotions and appearances, which will be used as herself in future movies, while herself should thoroughly forgo from any form of performance in public and the contract lasts 20 years.

The second chapter starts in 2033, an elder Robin is invited to the Futurological Congress by Miramount as a honorable guest in the city of Abrahama, an inclusively animated zone, whoever enters must drink a potion named “ampoule” and transform into an animated avatar, so this segment is entirely in animation, and it is also where the whole conception outgrows Folman’s command. The animation is in a retro-looking 2D format, not spectacularly groundbreaking, but the subsequent happenings begin to shake viewer’s grasp of the story, one can not ascertain what is happening after Robin is disconcerted between her hallucination and reality, and the commotion aroused by a rebellious insurgent doesn’t help to clarify the situation either, on the contrary, things ratchets down into a dystopia chaos, all we know Robin is rescued by Dylan Truliner (voiced by Jon Hamm), her devoted image scanner for 20 years, then being put into coma by cryonics since her mind is severely traumatized by some poisonous chemical substance.

The third chapter allegedly is another 20 years later, Robin wakes up from the coma and tries to identify herself in the illusory world created by people under the influence of more potent chemicals, (where one can turn into any appearance one wants to be, but in the animation structure only) whereas the disheartening reality is that those revels in their imaginations are basically numb walking dead. Eventually Robin chooses to reunite with Aaron in their fantasies instead stay in the dreadful real world.

THE CONGRESS is an intelligent fable which warns us that crass materialism would ghastly supersede the essential mentalism, smother our freedom in thinking, and becomes the doom of humanity. But it is far from being a competent film, particularly the emotional crunch never take off and the picture is a hot mess lost in its own maze of elusive profoundness and dazzling inventions, and animation is a convenient expedient to explore a fantasied world but the film never (even try to) give us a reason why the 2-dimensional creation is so necessary in the process, and it turns into an inconvenient artistic license.

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