Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2014
Directed by
Ari Folman
118 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
3.5 stars

The Congress

Synopsis: Long after reaching star status with her role as Buttercup in The Princess Bride, an aging Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is convinced by her equally aging agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston) to take one final job: preserving her digital likeness for use in the future where Hollywood will control her captured ‘image’, allowing them to cast her present day rendering in any film they want without restriction. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son (Kody Smit-McPhee) and her digitised character will stay forever young. 20 years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright’s digital double has risen to universal stardom but, with her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in ‘The Congress’ convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema.

In 1992, when Diet Coke used the available technology to resurrect Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney and Louis Armstrong to star with Elton John in their new ad there was a good deal of debate about the ethics of rendering the image of deceased stars for commercial gain. Of course, Carl Reiner had done the same thing ten years earlier for his film noir parody, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, but that was different, wasn’t it? That was art.

These are the kinds of questions that the character version of Robin Wright must face when she’s pressured into surrendering her acting career to a future of digital manipulation. Added to this very contemporary dilemma is the suggestion that, unlike many of her peers, she has resisted the temptation to surgically arrest the aging process and to allow herself, and her craft, to mature in a natural way. The problem for Robin, as everyone keeps pointing out, is that since her triumph in The Princess Bride, she has consistently made ‘lousy choices’ in films and that, together with her progressing years, it means her ‘star power’ is on the wane.

These ideas of the commodification of the Hollywood actor (especially women) provide the fuel that fires the engine of this unusual, fascinating and frustrating film. Frustrating because it so effectively blurs the line between reality and movie-making in order to explore a provocative and engaging idea that seems to get lost in the muddle of the second half of the film. When we make the twenty year jump to ‘The Congress’ itself, the film also slips into psychedelic animation that sits somewhere between early Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. As startling as this is, it means we lose the compelling onscreen presence of Wright in favour of a cartoon persona that takes us through most of the rest of the film. It’s here that the sense of heightened reality with just a touch of science fiction that so effectively characterises the film’s first half gives way to a much more free-form narrative that, for me at least, became confusing and less compelling than the earlier scenes with the ‘real’ actor

The use of animation is not a new thing for director, Ari Folman. He used it to great effect in Waltz With Bashir  but here it thrusts us into an entirely different kind of film which, in a way, makes the point that in the rendered version of the character we lose clarity, cohesiveness and the human connection that we formed at the beginning. Perhaps that’s intentional, but it’s not entirely successfully realised. Folman derived the script from a novel by Polish author Stanislav Lem (his novel "Solaris" was filmed by Steven Soderbergh in 2002 and Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972). I have not read the novel, an exercise which may well help in better understanding what this film is intended to be about.

Nevertheless, The Congress is a film with ideas that reach beyond its narrative and, for at least half of the film, those ideas are well within its grasp. The self-referential casting of Wright is a clever and effective device and her powerful performance is captivating, moving and worth the price of the ticket.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst