The Congress

The Congress ★★★★

The Congress is an ambitious dystopian Hollywood smack-down courtesy of Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman who has finally followed up his breakout 2008 debut Waltz with Bashir. Partly inspired by the sci-fi novel 'Futurological Congress' by Stanisław Lem, we are taken into a dystopian future like nothing we have ever experienced.

Robin Wright plays a variation of her real life as an actress and immerses herself into a future where her career is no longer viable in its current state, and to continue on she must sell her digital image and promise never to act again. After resigning herself to this state of being with a conflicted conscience, she attends a Futurological Congress and rebelliously speaks against Miramount's new technology enabling anyone to become anyone they want in the form of an animated avatar. The film goes onto to explore her emotional yearning to reacquaint with her sick son and a potential mental illness as well as drug induced hallucinatory states.

Just how much Folman's vision has strayed from Lem's writing I am unsure, but it definitely explores some similar existential territory to his novel Solaris (which has been adapted by both Tarkovsky and Soderbergh), and one can do nothing but admire such progressive vision that sees powerful dramatic live action material integrated with some of the most bizarre animation this side of Yellow Submarine. I had to watch the second half of the film twice just to wrap my head around the concept, but I can see myself coming back to this potential cult curiosity for years to come. The performance from Wright is quite nuanced and emotional, but does tend to fall flat in the delivery of her animated form, and the connection to her son's illness feels a little undercooked, which is a shame considering it is the emotional core of the film. Harvey Keitel hasn't been utilised so well on screen for years, whilst the rest of the cast fulfil their roles dutifully.

This is a film that feels too ambitious at times, but is never less than captivating in its scope and Folman is proving to be a visionary on the rise, and whilst The Congress may be drifting under the radar right now, I can foresee it finding its audience in due time. With its resonant themes on the state of the film industry and where our beloved cinematic form is heading, much like 2012's Holy Motors, this is a film that film buffs will surely gravitate toward.

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