The Congress (3 stars)

The Congress

Psychedelic animation/live action hybrid from Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman

Robin Wright hasn't had a good part in 15 years. Her entire career has been blighted by poor choices – in relationships as well as roles. At this point in time, it'd be better for her if she bowed out of showbusiness entirely.

This is the rather harsh starting point for Ari Folman's The Congress, in which Wright plays herself. At least her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) and studio boss Jeff (Danny Huston) are offering her a way out: the studio will map Wright's likeness into a computer, and continue using it to make as many movies as they like while she retires on a hefty severance package to look after her daughter Sarah (Sami Gayle) and son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the latter of whom suffers from a degenerative disease.

Occupying similar territory to Charlie Kaufman's Synechdoche, New York, The Congress asks profound questions about performance and identity, especially how the former might distort our perception of the latter, and of reality in general. It also makes a few swipes at how women's bodies are valued first and foremost in the movie industry. While it may occasionally lack Synechdoche's fingertip grip on coherence, The Congress more than makes up for it with visual fireworks.

Folman doubles down on the hallucinogenic animation style he debuted in Waltz with Bashir with a lengthy second act in which future Wright (now rendered in ink) attends a summit on image-mapping technology. It's a world inspired in equal parts by Japanese anime, vintage Disney and the psychedelia of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (a vehicle that makes a brief background cameo), and populated with cultural figures of all stripes: Frida Kahlo, Che Guevara, Magritte's Son of Man, Elvis Presley, Yoko Ono and the Egyptian god Horus are among the characters jostling for space in a restaurant where Michael Jackson serves lobster.

It's a feast for the eyes that bewilders and entrances, and while the extreme visuals and pop culture references may serve only to distract from a somewhat muddled storyline, they'll stay in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Reviewed at the Glasgow Film Festival 2014.

THE CONGRESS by Ari Folman - Official Trailer HD

The Congress

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • Israel / Germany / Poland / Luxembourg / France / Belgium
  • 2h 2min
  • Directed by: Ari Folman
  • Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm

Robin Wright (as herself) is an aging actress, offered a deal by the industry: if she lets them map her likeness onto a computer, they can make movies starring her but minus her presence. Folman's bewildering but memorable film builds startlingly on the animation techniques of Waltz with Bashir, asking profound questions…