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THE CONGRESS – Review
November 6, 2013
Whilst at the BFI London Film Festival I had the chance to enjoy one of the few science-fiction movies on offer, The Congress, based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel Futurological Congress. The critically acclaimed director Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir) follows on from his animated roots with a blend of live-action and animation to deliver possibly the most stunning film I have ever seen. There are several moments on screen where the colours and palette of both the live and animated scenes are simply gorgeous, though at times it does feel like the animators ‘dropped acid’ while watching Who framed Roger Rabbit as we get a bit distracted from the plot revolving around the viciousness of fame.
Fame can be fickle; this is not news to Robin Wright (played by Robin Wright) who has fallen out of the limelight due to her poor decisions in casting, never really realising her potential – “You were Jenny from Forrest Gump!” screams her agent (Harvey Keitel). The casting of Robin Wright as herself (albeit a less famous one in this movie) works because she is such a great actress in this role and so easy to identify with, although this choice throws you off a little bit when the rest of the cast play other characters and not themselves like Wright does. The supporting roles include Paul Giamatti (amazing as always), Jon Hamm (his honeyed voice only) and Danny Huston as the brilliant megalomaniac head of Miramount.
The film satirises Hollywood and the quest for fame, especially the cult of the celebrity when Robin is offered the chance to become digitised so her career can continue after her talents have peaked; “We want to own this thing called Robin Wright.” On the advice of her children she accepts, mostly to spend her time caring for her son Aaron played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) whose eyesight and hearing are slowly fading. The digital Robin Wright becomes a star in several action movies while the real Robin continues with her life. Soon Hollywood has invented a way to become your favourite celebrity rather than watch them never age in digital movies – this is where the cartoon portion of the film kicks in and it is stunning. Drawing influences from Japanese anime and surreal art to create a synthetic world where everyone can be anyone using a chemical created by Miramount, this future draws comparisons to the rise of online personas of what we’d really like to look like. For example Robin is offered as an avatar in this cartoon reality as well as Jesus Christ, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise Top-Gun style!
While the ‘cartoon reality’ is amazing to look at and throws up many interesting questions, it is at this point the plot starts to become more complicated and suffers for it. It becomes harder to immerse yourself in The Congress when you’re at a loss as to where Robin and every character since are, so that you’re almost left with just pretty visuals. However, if you can catch up quick enough to understand what is going on, the film stops being an art gallery and becomes a charming film about age, Hollywood and for me it was the best film at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. After seeing around 50 films, looking back I can single out The Congress as the one that had my utter attention: the visuals are this film’s stand out achievement, acting is a close second but the plot meanders at a distant third. Other critics have said that the film is too ambitious and I do agree that it could have reigned itself in and given the audience a better structure to follow but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The film’s meditation on a dystopian future of celebrity is thoughtful in the growing culture of celebrity, where plastic surgery is used to stem the flow of aging and online dating is home to ‘Catfishing’. Also touching on aging and free-will, the film’s success comes from the animation and cast, as it juggles both emotion and satire. It loses its footing during its middle act but focuses on emotion towards the end. It is worth seeing with an open mind and I will be watching it again as soon as I can.
The Congress premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and it’s screening at the UK Jewish Film Festival this Sunday, November 10 at 9pm. More info and tickets are available here: http://tiny.cc/plm45w