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.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 16, 2010)

16 04 2010

For the first time in its illustrious 33 week history, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column will have a two-part thematic series!  In other words, this week is the first of two “F.I.L.M. of the Week” articles that ties into a common theme.

The idea is to expose you to two animated movies that use the medium for different and exciting purposes.  No doubt about it, these movies are no Disney or DreamWorks.  These are movies made for adults with themes that reach farther and deeper than the normal animated audience.

When I explain the genre of “Waltz with Bashir,” the first movie in the series, it will probably sound like an oxymoron.  An animated documentary?!?  How does that even work?

But at some point in history, peanut butter and jelly sounded like a strange combination.  Someone had to be bold and try it, and Folman should be remembered as a pioneer of a new style of filmmaking that I really hope will catch on.  Using animation in a documentary is a fascinating way to make people’s memories come to life, especially ones that might be too costly or difficult to shoot in live action.  Nothing is wasted and no holds are barred.

Folman’s documentary revolves around a very intriguing concept.  As a young man, he fought for Israel in the Lebanon War of the 1980s.  Fast forward to the present day, and Folman has absolutely no recollection of anything that happened during the fighting save one memory of he and some comrades emerging from water completely naked.

He begins to visit some people who might be able to jog his memory, asking them about their experiences.  The stories slowly become more and more brutal, and Folman begins to remember.  As the events are displayed before our eyes in animation, we begin to realize just how terrifying the experience was for these soldiers.  Some Israelis stood by and watched genocide, and we feel their helplessness.  But what’s astounding is that the lens widens to include the perspective of those who have been massacred.  It’s an astounding experience, and if you aren’t absolutely jarred by the conclusion, then I don’t really know what to tell you.

If you decide to watch “Waltz with Bashir,” prepare yourself.  It’s not an easy movie to sit through, but it’s a rich and rewarding hour and a half.  Hopefully other documentary filmmakers have seen that Folman’s film is unbounded in its possibilities, and other stories that we could barely imagine will find life on celluloid.