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December 9, 2014

DVDFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

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The Congress is Ari Folman’s first release since his stand-out debut Waltz with Bashir and sadly lands itself in sophomore slump territory.

The story centers around an ageing Hollywood actress, Robin Wright (played by…Robin Wright) who has fallen from previous heights of stardom to what sinister movie producer Jeff Green (Danny Huston) describes as her “last role”.

In the first of many trippy turns, Green wishes to scan Robin to create a digitalized character owned by the Miramount studio. The only condition being that Robin can never act again and can live out the rest of her life caring for her ailing son.

At first hesitant, Robin is eventually convinced by long-term manager Al (Harvey Keitel) in one of the standout scenes where Al monologues his management career starting with charging kids a dollar to see the boy with a two-inch tail all the way up to the reason why he chose to stand by Robin despite a back catalogue of bad choices.

Robin, we learn, is a woman crippled by fear and I was genuinely excited to see how she moves on from giving up a trade that has become her and abandoned her all at the same time. Instead, Folman fastforwards the action to twenty years later before pushing us into a beautiful (and perplexing) animated world.

The animated zone of Abrahama is stunning: palettes of vibrant pink and blushed orange light up the screen with a cascading rainbow highway but for the non-stoners amongst us you are constantly asking “why are we here?”

Well, apparently Robin has become the industry’s leading digital star with her newest release “Rebel Robot Robin” stinging her insides. Trapped in a world of animated hallucinations she is helped by super fan Dylan (Jon Hamm) as she attempts to return to reality and find her son (a suitably eerie Kodi Smit-McPhee).

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Now, I’m not adverse to oddball animations (Adventure Time fan here!) but it all seems as if Folman is trying to work with too much and in the process comes up with too little.

The idea of a dystopian world where actors are more akin to products than they are people is an interesting premise for a movie but put together with a head-fuck journey into the world of nowhere just doesn’t work.

An immensely talented cast including Huston as a creepy, blood-sucking movie exec and Keitel as the endearingly soft manager is put to waste with the meandering plot. Ultimately, The Congress falls prey to its ambition and only touches on any real point it wants to make.

As a viewer I wanted to learn more about Robin’s past, the bond with her son and what life was like not being able to do what you love instead I got caricatured versions of Tom Cruise, Freida Kahlo and Jesus doing not too much.

I love movies that give me food for thought but with The Congress all I got was a beautifully presented but wholly unfilling plate.

The Congress is out on DVD from December 8th

Sean Mackenney