REVIEW: The Congress

19 07 2014

The CongressAri Folman’s “The Congress” certainly cannot be faulted for any lack of ambition.  The director has fiddled with some seemingly unthinkable products in the past. “Waltz with Bashir,” after all, seems like an oxymoron (an animated documentary?!).

In that film, he used animation to explore questions of personal memory and conscience in the wake of a decades-old conflict between Israel and Lebanon.  Here, he’s shifted his focus westward to Hollywood.  Folman places his finger on the pulse of some very real anxieties in the City of Angels: motion capture replacing real actors, lingering fears of digitization, and the commoditization of celebrity, to name a few.

To explore these, he makes us of actress Robin Wright to play a fictionalized version of herself.  In “The Congress,” she’s an actress standing on the precipice of obscurity (the film was shot before “House of Cards” sparked a career revival) faced with a decision to sell her persona to the studios for digital “sampling.”

Folman’s commentary enters the realm of the satirical on many an occasion, recalling a justifiably little-seen film “Antiviral” where fans would inject themselves with viruses from stars to experience them further.  “The Congress” similarly follows its beginning concept, which doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility, logically into absurdity.  Along the way, Folman doesn’t hesitate to dole out copious amounts of shame to both the business that condones these developments as well as the public that consumes them.

Robin Wright

Yet Folman becomes so concerned with this big picture of unimaginable dystopia that he can hardly form a coherent thought.  “The Congress” opens with a roughly 45 minute vamp-up explaining the sampling technology and debating its merits, proving to be a rather thought-provoking prologue.

Then, the film inexplicably cuts to 20 years later where Wright enters a realm of psychedelic animation.  The intent from thereon out seems to be making each scene more bizarre than the one before.  Every once in a while, a comment connects, but they mostly just lead to unnecessary head-scratching.  Folman’s clearly shooting for the moon, yet he lacks steady aim because he takes his eye off the prize.

I’ll take an ambitious failure over an asinine failure any day of the week, though I can’t help but feel that “The Congress” really could have been an ambitious triumph.  With a little more focus, Folman could have really crafted a cult classic that effectively raged against the machine.  But what ultimately makes it to the screen is really just a hot mess.  C2stars


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