The Congress

More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent and the head of Miramount Studios, her alias 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 and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator, Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. 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.

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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 Bruno on Letterboxd

    Highs: A highly imaginative film for sure. The animation is unique and unlike anything I've seen. It resembles Waltz with Bashir in a way, but here we enter in a fantastic world filled with strange and colorful characters / backgrounds. The Congress contained plenty of interesting and, at times, hilarious cameos by celebrities, religious icons, historical figures and so forth. I was also impressed by how much drama there was in this film. Robin Wright portrays this decadent actress who accepts one last job that will change the rest of her life. I liked how the animated world connected with reality for the most part.

    Lows: The animation is often spectacular, but can be too cartoonish on certain occasions, not being for everyone. This futuristic view of the movie industry is really over the top, but this wasn't a huge deal for me as it's mainly a sci-fi film. There are a few silly dialogues and jokes that dragged the first half a bit.

    Verdict: The Congress is a great comeback from Ari Folman and is definitely the wildest trip I've had watching an animated film in a long time.

  • ★★★★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 it's current state, and 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 it's 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.

  • ★★★★★ review by Ole Holgersen on Letterboxd

    I just saw The Congress at the opening night of the Bergen International Film Festival in Norway. I must admit, I went in having pretty high expectations after having fallen in love with Ari Folmans last film, Waltz With Bashir. So I was a little afraid that my expectations were never going to be met... But seeing such a well-made film, with such depth, unique storytelling and visual flair, it still managed to surprise the living daylights out of me. I have to say, I never saw - anything - like this!

    The Congress starts out as a drama about an actress who has already had her best days, and are offered to sell her persona to her film company for a shit load of cash. Soon it transforms from drama to sci-fi, and a unique, intelligent and highly surreal critique on commercial industry and the exploitation of artists for the use of profit, and profit only. The film combines lots of different styles and themes, all equally well crafted, and eventually the films turns into a journey from love to loss, from ecstasy to agony, from despair to hope, and back again.

    The combination of real film and animated film really does the job extremely well. You'll never understand the feeling of delusion better than when The Congress cuts from an hour long orgy of flashing colours, amazingly designed characters, creatures in the world of hallucinations, and then back to the harsh truth of reality.

    On top of the great story line and the excellent animation, Robin Wright does a remarkable job in acting as herself. She really takes an emotional beating, having her entire career shit upon by her agent and her chairman. They basically tell her something like: "You coulda had class. You coulda been a contender. You could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what you are", and it hits you right in the gut. Especially a scene with the brilliant Harvey Keitel under a photo scan, is an emotional roller coaster of a scene of such intensity, you're almost glad when it's over so that you can finally relax again.

    And also, if you are familiar with cinema and pop culture, there will be plenty of references (I just threw one in my self for good measures earlier) - some very subtle, some not at all - that add a lot of humour to the piece.

    All in all The Congress is an experience like no other, and an excellent visualization of an surprisingly overlooked topic. There are just a few films in cinema history that dares challenge the medium in such ways as Ari Folman does with this amazing piece of art, and when they do come along, they deserve all the praise, hype and love that they can get.

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