In 2008, Ari Folman hit radars with the critically acclaimed Israeli animated documentary Waltz with Bashir. It depicts his search for lost memories as a soldier in the 1982 Lebanon War. Not your typical animated film, it was nominated for dozens of awards worldwide including Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards.
Folman is back with The Congress, a 2013 French-Israeli live-action/animation hybrid, inspired by elements of Stanislaw Lem’s Sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress. It is now getting a theatrical release in the States courtesy of Drafthouse Films. Folman is the writer/director of the hallucinatory film starring Robin Wright as actress Robin Wright. Harvey Keitel plays her longtime agent, Al. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays her son, Aaron, who suffers from sight/sound deterioration, and Paul Giamatti plays the doctor that treats him. Danny Huston is Jeff Green, mogul at Miramount Studios (Miramax + Paramount), a giant film studio that wants to pay Robin a large amount of money for the rights to her digital image. If she agrees, she will be scanned and she’ll never be allowed to act again. Her image will be used as the studio sees fit and she will have no choice in the matter.
The first 50 minutes is live-action and plays like a dramatic Hollywood satire and dark foreshadowing of the future of motion pictures. Robin Wright delivers a strong performance, Keitel is (mostly) in fine form, and Danny Huston is terrific. The live-action section is a tad bloated and probably could’ve been condensed a bit. It’s melodramatic and a little heavy-handed in parts. When the movie makes the jump to animation it’s a jarring transition into a colorful, psychedelic world.
At first glance, the animation looks crude- like something you’d see on television- but on closer inspection, the detail and fantastic use of color is noticeable. Folman’s style reveals itself using a totally different color palette than the dark, natural tones of Waltz with Bashir. The Congress boasts bright, bold colors and trippy scenery. Robin describes the look in the movie, “Like a genius designer on a bad acid trip (laughs)… I look like a combination of Cinderella on heroin and an Egyptian queen on a bad hair day.” She also has a striking resemblance to some of Hitchcock’s blondes, particularly Kim Novak in Vertigo. At one point her younger self is compared to Grace Kelly in Rear Window.
Once we fall down the rabbit hole, the movie gets even more interesting and unpredictable. It’s not always easy to follow along and some viewers may find the lack of clarity frustrating, but it’s a ride worth taking. I’m still digesting the ending and I look forward to another viewing. If you’re into unconventional films with big ideas, or you just wanna take mushrooms and watch some gnarly shit, this is the movie for you. Props to Ari Folman for having a unique vision and for making something so outside of the norm. Even if it doesn’t fully come together, I consider it a success.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Keep your eyes peeled for references to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove and listen for Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio No.2 in E flat, Op. 100 from Barry Lyndon.
Essential Viewing: The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Cloud Atlas, 2001: A Space Odyssey
More shots of the animation:
Here’s the trailer. I personally think it gives too much away. Watch at your own risk.
The Congress is now playing in Houston at Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
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