THE CONGRESS (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Does this make sense or is it just in my mind?”
- Robin Wright
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It makes perfect sense Robin. And it’s not just your mind, but your body, likeness and image that is the structural glue to this thought-provoking intellectual rollercoaster of a ride. This movie is a brainy whirling dervish of a story, in which, like Wright, we ascertain whether we want to be part of where the story is leading us. With all of its allegories pertaining to the entertainment business, to Wright’s own personal attribution with her career and self mocking of the subject, The Congress makes more sense than you would expect going in. There are more normalcies here with Wright being our heroine in Ari Folman’s highly conceptual old school studio love letter that also damns the ink of the very pen it was scribed for as Hollywood lurks wearing its totalitarian mask. So, Robin, yes it does make sense because after all it’s not just your mind, the movie wants, it’s also the likeness of thoughts in it.

KEYWORDS
Ambitious, Challenging, Insightful, Out-of-the-box, Tender, Detached, Kooky, Intelligent

THE GOOD
Very Intriguing Premise
Wonderful usage of colors as a form of expression
Robin Wright’s acting in natural space playing”herself”
Director’s usage of naturalism with film lens
Supporting cast – Harvey Keitel, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Danny Huston add legitimacy
Wonderful Animation Style

THE BAD
Movie’s narrative structure was a bit unfocused
Running length too long

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. 

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Ari Folman, director behind the brilliant Academy Award nominated Waltz with Bashir, brings a high-minded film experience where the movie is based off the Science Fiction novel ‘The Futurelogical Congress’ by Stanislaw Lem. Simply put, In Lem’s book, the protagonist, is split between two realms in which the Utopia turns out to be an illusion. Here Folman delivers Wright as the subject and merges the utopian/illusion aspect of Lem’s novel substituting it with the very aspect of Wright’s being. Splitting ballistically between “delusional and real mental states,” Wright grapples with the fated decision of giving up her likeness.

This movie voice is delivered with fictionalized truth. Wright, to her credit is a wonderful leading woman to follow, as she herself is puzzling to connect with. She is warm but remote, pretty but masculine, direct but only in a passing glance sort of way. This movie lends to her contrasting, enigmatic nature perfectly. She will tell you how she feels succinctly, taciturn, but spoken with a warm tone. When she leaves a scene the question of “what’s she thinking” is always lingering thereafter. Upon initial encountering of the “Machine” that can capture her likeness, Wright sternly wonders how this can be. Harvey Keitel, doing his nicest cuddly Mr. Wolf impression, down to the black tie and matching dinner jacket, convinces her that by agreeing to do this she will no longer have to be at the mercy of the creative process of film making. Her face tightens as he goes in further depth.

It’s glaringly apparent that certain aspects of Wright’s real life filmography, and hind-sighted career moves are a catalyst for the movie’s overarching need to thrust her towards dangerous self-effacing territory.  It’s also used as a parlor trick with Wright and Folman performing the stunts in planned unison. I never followed her career until recently with Netflix’s political thriller ‘House of Cards’. Personally, I knew her as Buttercup in The Princess Bride and Jenny in Forrest Gump with her calling card being mostly a ‘can’t miss” talent in her youth. I know OF Robin Wright, but I don’t know who she is besides a “deep-cut kind of role choosing actress.” I still don’t know who she is after this movie unlike  the way I know Julia Roberts. Roberts has that indomitable smile coupled with a cackling lighthearted but piercing laugh. Wright says more by saying less, but nothing ever memorable, nothing ever trademarked until now. In a way, that’s what’s ironically smart about a film that wants to capture her ‘likeness’ knowing aggressively that it’s her likeness that needs to be introduced in more mainstream roles (real life criticism at play here). The film wonderfully panders on it by framing her in a sci-fi popcorn movie as a whip snapping dominatrix. And yes, it’s as egotistically self-mocking as I wanted it to be.

Folman, adds quite of bit of different genre’s within this movie that works with a masterful yet reckless speed. The interplay consists of sci-fi, to drama, to heartwarming search, to backhanded film industry reverence. His camera is filmed and pointed with a slight David Lynch-ian quality. The film’s reality (as we know it) captures subtle complacently with a specific intended detachment. Flat movement dictates pacing. Rhythm is handled with unemotional, yet purposeful staleness that supports distance between not only you and the screen, but also allowing the characters to inhabit it to a full realistic proxy. Folman absolutely captures a tonal false sense of tranquility that intends to disorient, but also slipping a subconscious thought in comprehending why someone is accustomed to living in a delusional state as normalcy. You don’t know which world the director wants you to naturally relate towards. It’s that very touch that forces you to buy into the experience unfettered. Cascading between both worlds, Folman, per the reference of the book, wants to take his vision even further on screen. The studio decides that Wright’s likeness is not enough, and therefore wants to make a vaporized gas in which its user inhales into a consciousness where they become anyone they desire. Here is when fantasy turns to debauchery. Midway through the movie, we are transported to an animation reality, where we follow Wright in the future, having to negotiate away her “property”. In the animation world we get lively colors presented in a warped art-deco stylized future, where other participants show their “true” colors: We see huffed up versions of Clint Eastwood, Liza Minelli, to even Marilyn Monroe herself glamorized in Folman’s utopia. Once settled, the movie’s juxtaposition between reality and animation punches you in the face like a huffed up Muhammed Ali.

Folman, carefully presents both realities to which you are no longer questioning the verisimilitudes. This is strengthened by his lead actress: Wright is strident, she is safe, and she is unwavering. Wright never gets in awe or ahead of herself. Regardless if she is in the film either in her real state, likeness, or delusional state, Wright handles everything with aplomb. It’s this reliability that you need in a character/personality like hers to carry you through the thrilling madness. Her character doesn’t have a career arc because she is who she is, but the story arc is ever present. Robin Wright is experimenting with realities but not personalities. And thank goodness for that. Folman puts a lot of ideology in a blender and purees the hell out it. But she is more than capable of standing up to it. To a fault sometimes Folman tries to juggle too many genres and elements at the cost of nuanced balance. It comes across as an eyesore - the narrative at times is messy, and whimsically bizarre. Never once was I bored, but that isn’t necessarily an automatic positive when credentialing this movie. I feel as if the tension of merging the source material and Folman’s own creative impulses never married harmoniously to where consistent narrative flow dominated, instead becoming overly muddled at key moments.

Lastly, Wright is driven throughout the movie to take care of her teenage, brilliantly sensitive son played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is afflicted with crumbling deafness and blindness, which is part of the reason Wright adjudicates herself in signing off her likeness - ensuring he is taking care of financially. It’s this last key point that Folman doesn’t lose focus on giving it all a purpose, a drive, harnessing Wright to decide empirically which ‘reality’ to choose and why she chose it. She does it for her son, for a fleeting chance to find him, uncover him. This is what ties everything together thematically, ideologically, metaphorically, and cinematically to where Folman’s fictionalized truth doesn’t disobey your pensive trust.  

KEY SCENE
Thank you beautiful exposition. Folman decides to throw us a bone and rudimentary explains his vision. The scene evokes a light and easy tone. Notice Wright is just taking things in a relaxed manner, as Keitel’s character playfully discusses the ramifications of signing the Lucifer-laden offer, and thus betraying her craft. Folman shoots this scene to be friendly, treating the topic at hand like a lark – but it’s misleading as there is a profundity that awaits her fateful decision. 

CONCLUSION
I really loved the nerve of this movie, making me want to fully examine again, what the movie intends on promising, compared to what it achieves and how it’s delivered. It’s not met with derision. It’s met with a voyeuristic curiosity. I always complain about how cinema can be stale and with little to imagination nowadays; needing IMAX or CGI to sprinkle in the creative nuances that fail as a substitute for original thought or movie ingenuity. So, when a movie like this comes to the forefront with little to no fanfare, but delivered in an outrageous yet courageous manner, then I give this movie it’s well deserved due. Wild, far-reaching, and with the right amount of visual abstract grandeur - The Congress is an rewarding experience basking in its own lazy charm that anyone who wants to elevate what movies can actually do intellectually will end up pleasantly dumbfounded. 
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3.5 out of 4

 


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