Festival Review: The Congress (2014)

the-congress

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Beginning in an almost-real version of the real world, The Congress centers on Robin Wright, playing struggling actress Robin Wright, once-beloved star of The Princess Bride whose career has gone sour after years of missed roles and bad film choices. Now in her 40s, Robin devotes much of her time caring for her sick teenaged son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is slowly losing his hearing and sight. When a cruel producer (Danny Huston) offers her an unbelievable contract, she decides to take it, resulting in her entire self being digitized. Her digital likeness is taken over by a studio conglomerate, which uses it to make new movies starring a younger, malleable, no-personal-melodrama version of Robin Wright, while the real one is no longer allowed to act. Twenty years later, she meets with the company to negotiate a new contract, but finds that the world is changing faster than she anticipated, with a new chemical process that allows humans to view the world as a cartoon, changing themselves and everything around them through drug-fueled imagination.

Positioning its characters between the contrasting poles of heartbreaking realism and completely bonkers fantasy, The Congress juggles a multitude of ideas but manages to present a fairly cohesive story. By grounding his tale with a real-life protagonist, the actress Robin Wright, Folman is able to gradually incorporate stranger and stranger concepts, with the final destination barely resembling the starting point. The world he creates is definitely weird, distinguished by its ever-fluctuating landscape and psychedelic colors, populated by people who are limited only by the reach of their imaginations. The animation retains the superficial sheen and flatness of Folman’s previous film, Waltz with Bashir, but the visual style varies, overwhelming the viewer with different aesthetics and effects, conveying the befuddlement felt by Wright when she enters this unfamiliar animated world.

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I loved it, but it’s not without its flaws. The animation just works, stringing together multiple influences and references but almost distracting me with that Flash-style feel, where everything is sort of disassociated. The story is all over the place, jumping across decades at different points to reflect the extreme changes in society, and attempting to simultaneously focus on Wright’s personal experiences of caring for (and later trying to locate) her son as well as the structure of this crazy future. But somehow it all mostly works, with Wright remaining strong as the protagonist whose confused perspective comes to mirror the audience’s. The whole thing is an emotional experience, weird and funny and satirical and inventive and honestly rather touching. I could tell that some people in the audience were left with a “Huh?” reaction, but I walked out feeling inspired and moved.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I don’t know. I’m just drawing a blank here for any other movie, though I’m sure there are a few sci-fi ones that would be good. It’s up to you, I guess.

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