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The Congress - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Congress
Directing: C+
Acting: C+
Writing: C
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-
Animation: B

I hesitate to say that The Congress might be better enjoyed while on acid, that's such a cliché thing to say. Mushrooms, maybe? Not that I would know; I've never tried either drug. I can only imagine this movie, or more specifically the second half of it, is something at least vaguely akin to that experience. If nothing else, any semblance of coherence that had been presented in the first half falls apart.

And there's something to be said for coherence. Directed and written by Ari Foldman (adapted from a novel), this movie comes with high expectations after the stunning and haunting Waltz with Bashir (2009), a movie that used incredible animation to convey the deep emotional wounds of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That film took on vital subject matter and turned it into unforgettable art.

The Congress seems to be attempting to do the same, but shifting the subject to American celebrity culture and youth obsession. Problem is, such pop culture themes are comparatively trivial, not to mention stale.

Also in contrast to Waltz with Bashir -- seriously, find that movie and watch it -- The Congress is roughly half live action. It stars Robin Wright, as herself. Fiction-Robin has two teenage children, the younger of them a boy with a condition that is expected to render him blind and deaf by his mid-thirties. He is the only reason Robin decides to accept her film studio, Miramount (har har), offer for the last contract she'll ever get: a complete body and brain scan that allows them to use the digital version of her as an actress in all subsequent movies.

At first, this premise is fairly compelling. There is much talk about aging in the movie business and how technology is rendering people, even artists, irrelevant. These discussions, however, are had without much insight or anything particularly new to say about the Hollywood machine. And Robin Wright's longtime agent, Al, is played by Harvey Kaitel in a curiously wooden performance. Even Robin Wright, a truly talented actor, seems to move in and out of truly inhabiting the "Robin Wright" character. It feels a little as though Folman is just a novice at directing live action. Although, to be fair, he did direct two other films in Israel.

There's a sense of relatively low budget in the live action scenes. The script must have been popular when it made the rounds, though: other actors (or voice actors) include Paul Giamatti as the son's doctor; Jon Hamm as an animator in "The Animation Zone"; and Danny Huston as the Miramount executive. Maybe they all just "got" the supposedly cerebral themes that just flew over my head.

Robin agrees to the scan, and gives up her likeness, body and soul, who is then used digitally in films. Her digital likeness appears to age just as she does, which really makes no sense.

The film suddenly jumps ahead twenty years, and then The Congress pretty much just goes bonkers. An aged Robin Wright, driving a vintage car from 2013, stops at a checkpoint before entering "The Animation Zone." She sniffs a vial of some kind of drug, which transports her, and her car, into a dizzying world of animated characters and colorscapes. Most of the human cartoons here are rendered in a strangely retro fashion, like they were taken from the 1920s and colorized. In this animated world, most of the frames are packed with too much detail to take in all at once.

Robin approaches a Miramount luxury hotel where she is to attend "The Future Congress." I never did figure out what that meant exactly. Even the opening credits introduced her as "Robin Wright at The Congress," but once she enters cartoon-land, very little makes any sense at all. In an early scene in the Animation Zone, after she has a bit of a breakdown and smashes her head into a mirror, there is some sense that perhaps all that we're seeing is in her head. When we are later transported back to the future "real world," a scuffed and filth-ridden Los Angeles, that sense is even stronger. But nothing is ever particularly straightforward.

And that is ultimately the frustration with The Congress. The animated world it presents isn't so much beautiful or haunting as it is whacked out. Strangely, several of the live action sequences offer much lovelier -- and more memorable -- cinematography. Who knows why the hell Robin Wright lives in a converted airplane hangar next to an operating regional airport, but it makes for some nice shots.

The ending does offer a bit of a twist regarding Robin's quest to live for her son's betterment, but it doesn't quite put all the pieces together. The Congress is a strange mix of ideas half-realized and a lingering sense of vague confusion.

the congress

Overall: C+
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