The Congress

More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, Robin Wright decides to take her final job: preserving her likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent and the head of Miramount Studios, her digital doppelganger will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want, with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator, Wright’s double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to speak at Miramount's "Futurological Congress". However, a group of terrorists plot an attack on the convention.

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  • ★★★★½ review by Boy Roarbison [fka Nag Champion] on Letterboxd

    Narrative be damned! Far and away one of the most trippy film experiences I've encountered in a long, long while. I went in knowing almost nothing, aside from my familiarity with Folman's previous work, and I was all the better for it. I cannot even begin to tell you what this film is about, what it means and what deeper conclusions might lay hidden beneath its surface. Impressive performances from Robin Wright [as herself], Harvey Keitel [he totally steals one particular scene] and Danny Huston [few actors play villainous like he does]. The animation is "far out" and your senses will be bombarded on pretty much every level a 2-D moving picture is capable of. While I expect I need an additional viewing to fully rationalize my enjoyment of it, I feel as if I have no choice but to find a place somewhere on my Best of the Year list for Ari Folman's mind-bending trip The Congress.

  • ★★★★ review by jose on Letterboxd

    this movie would've been amazing if i was high

  • ★★★★½ review by Caty Alexandre on Letterboxd

    I heard about this film some months ago but I didn't expect it to be released in here. When I heard that it would be I knew right away that I had to have the chance to watch it at the big screen because it looked visually appealing and the different story caught my attention too.

    The Congress is presented to us as a futuristic story about Robin Wright, the actress that plays herself. The cinema industry is not easy we all know that aging is not a good thing in Hollywood. The parts start to get smaller and start to be less and less. Beauty almost always wins in a world that sells beauty and youth for all eternity. The new Hollywood era in The Congress is exactly the non existence of actors. All actors are scanned into a computer, then the computer does all of the rest. They just have to sign a contract saying that they are "property" of a movie company. But this film is not just that. From that point, we jump into 20 years ahead where people are be able to chose to live in the real world or in an animated world that offers them the freedom of being whatever they want to be with a total different perception of what the world once was before.

    The whole concept of this film is very innovative. The combination of live-action and animation is absolutely very well made. Visually is great, very colorful and imaginative. Creepy sometimes but beautiful at the same time. Definitely an unique film.

    A lot of moral questions are presented to us like, what is freedom afterall? Why humans are so superficial and selfish? What about human consciousness? It's very deep and we need to find all of the hidden messages beneath what we are watching.

    It is definitely a film that will make you think about a lot of powerful issues that exist in this world. It looks amazing and all of the themes addressed are very important but I think sometimes might be a bit confusing and overcomplicated. That's why I can't give it the 5 stars and I also don't know if I can recommend it to any one. I just can speak for myself and for me it was definitely worth watching! I think that it's a film that need to be experienced because is much harder to explain.

  • ★★★★ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd

    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.

  • ★★★½ review by Graham Williamson on Letterboxd

    There's a monologue at the end of act one of The Congress, Ari Folman's follow-up to the justly lauded Waltz With Bashir that I think is as good as any speech ever written for the cinema. It comes when Robin Wright, playing "Robin Wright", an ageing actress with a haphazard career and family life, has agreed to let herself be scanned by Miramount Studios. The scanning process will create a permanently youthful onscreen avatar of Wright, which the studio can then put to work in the kind of sexy-action-girl roles the real-life Wright has avoided.

    Anyway, Wright is led into the scanning chamber, which resembles the sort of thing Buckminster Fuller might have come up with had he embraced the disco era. She is asked to contribute emotions that can be used on Miramount's virtual Robin, but her performance is lacking. She is anxious about her contract, which stipulates that she cannot act for twenty years, lest she taint the shiny perfection of her digital self with the reality of a human being getting older. At which point the man who introduced her to the contract, her agent (Harvey Keitel) jumps in with a staggering extended speech about his friendship with a misfit boy in the Bronx when he was a child. It goes in all sorts of directions, some charming, some disturbing, and ends up looping back into the main plot in a wholly unexpected way. And it marks the point at which neither Keitel nor Wright can go back on their pact with the studio.

    The Congress is too long, it ignores about six valid potential endings, and it is burdened with a subplot about Wright's disabled, kite-flying son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) which never becomes as tearjerking or as metaphorically rich as Folman wants it to be. But it is garlanded with moments like the one I've described above which are richer and more thought-provoking than many films which are objectively better.

    Obviously, the world it describes is in many ways already here, as anyone who's read this New Yorker piece about actor scanning will know. But it's also with us in less dramatic, less hi-tech ways, as the film keeps making clear. The studio's reptilian boss (Danny Huston) challenges Wright's objections to the scanning plot by asking if she gets permission to use the image of people she has sexual fantasies about, and the later, animated stages of the film are replete with cartoon images of iconic figures like Frida Kahlo, Muhammad Ali, Pablo Picasso and David Bowie. Did Folman get permission to use all these likenesses? Surely not - its his right as an artist to comment on a celebrity's public image. But how do we divide the image of Ali - a man famous for sticking to his beliefs and personality in the face of heavy opposition - from the real person?

    In the run-up to The Congress's UK release Folman was asked by The Big Issue to talk about the experience of being an Israeli director promoting his work at a time when Israel is facing widespread international criticism. As anyone who's seen Waltz With Bashir will know, Folman is hardly a Likudnik, but he was critical of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement for hitting artists harder than their government. Now that the Israeli left are in disarray, he noted, artists are the most prominent voices for peace in Israel.

    But he also said that he was disappointed by the failure of Waltz With Bashir to open up any lasting dialogue on the misdeeds of the IDF in his home country. Buried under the surface of The Congress is a lurking anxiety about the value of art. It's a science-fiction film whose characters constantly denigrate science fiction as an art form, and in the case of the tosh the virtual Wright ends up starring in, they've got a point. But then they end up living in a science fiction dystopia, lifted from a novel by the great Stanisław Lem (The Futurological Congress).

    Would this world have turned out differently had they listened to the genre, or are we just programmed to forget warnings? Time and time again in the film the Nazis and the Holocaust are invoked, but always in an apolitical context - Wright is implored to play in a "Holocaust movie" to get her career back on track, and when it is debated whether she should be a Nazi or a Jew someone suggests she could be a collaborator. That's talent, they note. If the epicentre of moral evil that is the Holocaust no longer means anything - if the words "Nazi" and "Jew" are just available to anyone who wants to construct an argument about anything - what makes us think our own identities are so precious and valid? Why should our precious identities be saved from the cultural whirlpool of meaningless signs, signifiers, ideologies and data that our society now represents?

    The Congress is a bit ragged, but any film that can raise questions like that must be seen.

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