A wildly ambitious film that may have been trying to achieve a little too much.
The Congress (Cannes Review)
In more than one way Ari Folman’s The Congress reminds me a lot of last year’s Cannes film Holy Motors. The most obvious way is how both films can be said to be about the future of cinema. In The Congress Robin Wright essentially plays herself, a B-list actor who is complimenting on whether or not to allow herself to be sampled by the studio who can digitally re-create and place “her” in future films. Holy Motors was also a futuristic take on cinema where the camera never stops thus the actor is always acting. Both films are incredibly creative, fascinating, and push the envelope in terms of filmmaking; all things that by itself is worth a lot of praise. Another more personal reason why they both are alike to me is that I opened film festivals with these two wild mind-trip films. I am starting to question whether diving head first into these film festivals is really a good idea.
The first half of The Congress is displayed in live-action form and is relatively straight forward. A boss from a fictitious studio company named “Miramount”, played by spectacularly by Danny Huston, expresses to Robin Wright that she should allow the studio to sample her as it is the future of cinema. And we are not just talking about sampling her voice, but all her emotions and facial expressions. This way the studio can then re-create a version of Robin Wright that will live on forever, allowing them to place in her an infinite amount of films over the next two decades. This is the path that they claim cinema is going on and it is without a doubt an interesting concept.
Robin refused to sign the contract which states she has no choice of what kind of films will be made with her digitally assigned to. Freedom of choice is what the actress fights for, at least initially. Although her son’s recent poor health begins to outweigh her dignity and she caves in. Later on in the film, an even newer trend is discovered which allows a film to be completely unique to its viewer. Technology advances far enough to be able to trigger personal emotional experiences from the audience member’s brain, making the film watching experience feel more intimate. It is even suggested that audience will be able to literally taste actors and actress that get sampled into future (which is basically the entire plot of Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral).
The second half of the film takes a wicked turn. All of a sudden the live-action film turns into the kind of digital animated world that was talked about in the first half. Here Folman creates a trippy environment that is beautiful to look at and hard to look away from. Just imagine if Yellow Submarine was combined with Waking Life, you would likely get something close to The Congress.
The Congress seems to be an obvious satire on movie studios, but the film continues to explore other plotlines along the way that makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly what message the film was trying to get across. The truth is, there are many ideas expressed in the film and that might be its biggest downfall. There are laugh-out-loud moments when the film is making fun of movie studios. There are some fascinating insights on the future of cinema. There is even some good old family drama and love interests in the film. The problem is some areas work much better than others. One thing is for sure, it is a wildly ambitious film – perhaps it was trying to achieve just a little too much though.
Originally published on May 17th, 2013