Directed by Ari Folman
The Congress stars Robin Wright as a fortysomething actress who won the world’s heart in The Princess Bride, but its sci-fi elements are closer to reality. In the film’s alternate-present first act, Wright plays “Robin Wright,” a faded star with a “difficult” reputation. She is “scanned” so that her eternally youthful digital likeness can be manipulated to perform in Hollywood garbage; motion capture, with “capture” the operative word. Writer-director Ari Folman is continuing an evergreen dialogue about manufactured icons and manufactured consent—about performers, actresses especially, as the dream factory’s exploited labor.
Folman’s cast, particularly Harvey Keitel and Danny Huston as Wright’s anachronistically conceived schlemiel agent and studio boss, acquit themselves well with his stilted dialogue, creating the not-unpleasing sense of a very faithful adaptation of a translation from the Polish. But in fact, The Congress begins its borrowings from Stanislaw Lem’s The Futurological Congress only with its fully animated second act. Here, twenty years hence, Wright is pulled out of retirement into the “animated zone,” a Second Life Vegas where drugged-up consumers choose their own fantasies, existing as cartoons from a mishmash of genres (banditos with bendy six-shooters!). Common dreams like movies are so turn-of-the-century—as Wright discovers when she falls further into a dystopia of cloud-life wish-fulfillment via a sequence of nested hallucinations. Already a formal hybrid, The Congress overreaches as if in hopes of being described as “sprawling” in its elements of mixed-media critique and matrix-y mindfuck, at the expense of ontological clarity, or subtlety.
Not all “hallucinatory” imagery is necessarily visionary. Folman and his animation team oppose the escapist-industrial complex with hippy-dippy nonsense—as when the animated Wright grows wings, then undulates ecstatically atop her spirit guide-cum-love interest (voiced by John Hamm and rendered with an unbuttoned dress shirt and pencil mustache—very Plato’s Retreat) before a backdrop of exploding airplanes. Too, given the film’s pointed conflation of its star with her same-named, iconoclastic character, it is a shame that we lose Robin Wright’s face for fully half of the film. Her anime-eyed avatar is hardly a substitute for her own visage—at once taut and lined, severe and consoling, and such a perfect advertisement for “aging gracefully,” it could have been generated by a computer.
Opens September 5 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center