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The Congress
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema

The Congress is part dark sci-fi satire and part backstage Hollywood dream film from the Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman (director of the award winning 2008 animated feature Waltz with Bashir). Robin Wright plays an aging movie star named Robin Wright who shares the same filmography as the real actress--achieving early stardom in films like The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump--but lives a fictional off-stage life with two children in an old hangar next to an airport (she’s a descendent of the Wright Brothers, you see). This meta Robin Wright is no longer in demand as an actress so her agent (Harvey Keitel) makes a deal with the head of the fictional Miramount Studios (Danny Huston) in which she agrees to give up acting, be digitally scanned, and sell the film rights to her forever-young likeness so that the studio can use the new digital Robin Wright in whatever movies they see fit.

Like so many sci-fi premises that combine the fear of digital technology and totalitarian corporations, this might have made for a terrific movie in the mid-1980s or early ‘90s when ideas like this were far more fantastic and metaphorical. But these days, when this type of technology is closer to reality and stories like this are a dime-a-dozen, films like The Congress come across as simpleminded unless they are brilliantly conceived and executed.  Folman’s ideas are far too obvious, and he never succeeds in creating a credible reality, even though he’s using the image and history of a real actress. Wright, on the other hand, feels completely believable and sympathetic. The subtleties of her largely reactive performance almost overcome the heavy-handed dialogue written for her co-stars. For the first third of the picture I kept hoping that Folman would eventually get through his exposition and begin to effectively explore his story’s abundant themes: aging in Hollywood, America’s obsession with youth, the disposable culture of Western civilization, and women’s choices about work, family, and ideology. Unfortunately, right when this shift should happen, the film transforms into a kind of psychedelic Ralph Bakshi picture, complete with the trippy imagery, overbearing subtext, and rambling, repetitive structure that typifies that animator’s work. It’s frustrating that the first third of the picture winds up being the best part. 

Directed by Ari Folman
Produced by Robin Wright, Ari Folman, Reinhard Brundig, Sébastien Delloye, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska, David Grumbach, and Eitan Mansuri

Screenplay by Ari Folman
Based on the novel The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem

With: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny Huston, Sami Gayle, Michael Stahl-David, Paul Giamatti, Ed Corbin, Christopher B. Duncan, and the voice of Jon Hamm

Cinematography: Michal Englert
Editing: Nili Feller
Music: Max Richter

Runtime: 122 min
Release Date: 03 July 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color