The Congress

The Congress ★★★½

Ari Folman, director of 2008's Waltz with Bashir, returns with his follow-up The Congress, a kaleidoscope of textures and ideas that couldn't be more different from his previous effort. It is a highly ambitious piece of science fiction blending live action and animation, challenging the concept of identity and the ownership of image, which takes our current perceptions a number of steps forward.

Beginning in 2013, actress Robin Wright (playing herself) has been asked by her studio Miramount to take a bold leap into the future. Hard headed studio chief Jeff (Danny Huston) announces the death of the film industry infrastructure as we know it. No more agents, no more actors, cinematographers or directors. All to be replaced by younger computer generated recreations controlled by the studio and an army of CGI whiz-kids.

Reference is made to some of Wright's earlier films such as The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump but this Robin Wright has had a slightly different career trajectory, an actress who never quite made the right decisions and failed to live up to expectation. Her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) urges her to sign-up for the deal and her two kids are also slowly convinced, which leads her to sign the contract.

After beginning the scanning process, we leave Wright and meet again in 2033, as she is heading towards the 'Futurist Congress', crossing the boundary from reality into a wholly animated world. After the events in the Miramount hotel complex, the film then moves forward to 2053 where Folman tries to knot together these numerous ideas, still tracking Wright on her journey through the worlds.

Whilst the first act is quite generic and doesn't offer too much, it does serve as the ideal platform for the surreal, at times nightmarish and psychedelic worlds to come 20 and 40 years later. With an ever increasing focus on CGI, online interaction and digital ambiguity the heart of the film delves into how fluid the idea of image can become in the future. The ultimate concept of being who you want to be, creating and controlling your own identity although with the assistance of hallucinatory drugs taking you there.

Folman references a whole catalogue of animation influences, anything from Betty Boop style, Looney Tunes to modern day creations. Some sections are absolutely beautiful pieces of work and the style generally reminds you of animated films from the 70's. What the film lacks however, is a real beating heart. With the ever increasing scope around Wright you become entranced far more with the world(s) rather than any emotional tie-in. The last 15 minutes attempts to rectify this and it works to a small degree but more concentration on the human story earlier could have elevated this film into classic territory.

With that said, The Congress is not a film you will appreciate or even completely understand on a first watch. Folman has attempted something quite bold and beautiful and a few sittings will help absorb everything he is trying to throw at us. Set against many of the other, far more expensive entries in the sci-fi field this year, then it certainly is up there as one of the best in 2013.

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