REVIEW — “The Congress”
For better or worse, “The Congress” is an incredibly unique movie. In essence it’s a metaphysical film made for other filmmakers that general audiences will likely not appreciate.
Loosely adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s “The Futurological Congress,” Writer/Director Ari Folman replaces the novel’s villainous pharmaceutical companies with evil Hollywood executives. In the not so distant future, Big Film Studios, in this case “Miramount”, have begun offering special new contracts to their star actors. For a considerable payment, they purchase the “character” of the actor, scan the person, creating a digital avatar that can be used for the studio’s every whim, and the “real” actor is then prohibited from performing in any manner again. Robin Wright plays an alternative version of herself, an actress who has faded over the years after becoming a star for her role in “The Princess Bride.” Her son has a rare condition known as “Usher’s Syndrome” that will eventually take his vision and hearing. Between her fading youth and limited availability, the roles she’s offered have become few and far between. Reluctantly she agrees, but puts in a clause that limits the studio’s control to 20 years.
20 years pass in an instant in the film and she’s back to renegotiate her contract. Over the past 2 decades Miramount has turned their version of Wright into a superstar, complete with her own crappy sci-fi action series. Instead of meeting in a physical location, Wright is invited to meet with the studio head at “The Congress”, an animated virtual reality world of sorts. Apparently, many people have now scanned themselves and exist in this alternate existence where their fantasies can become realities. They can now even ingest the “essence” of other people (actors, etc) to experience them. It’s a lot to take in.
A significant portion of the film is animated in a style reminiscent of the Fleischer Brothers’ work from the ’30s. At times it feels very fitting and appropriate, but it also tends to detract from some of the more serious scenes. But, this slightly futuristic, fantasy setting is very adept at exploring a number of interesting concepts, particularly those that relate to the industry. How much further will big studios go in their quest to give the masses what they want? Who is a better judge of what makes a “good” film? The masses who pay for it, or the directors who craft their vision? Is an avatar any different from a real life actor, who many times has no free will over their portrayal of a character in a film? The movie also lightly touches on the nature of love and our fears of mortality.
So what keeps this ambitious and unique film from being universally well received? Its biggest flaw, if you can call it that, is the director’s limited scope. The only real antagonist is Big Hollywood Studios. Anyone outside the biz’, and your run-of-the-mill Bay-fanatics, will probably miss the point. It also runs a little too far on the slow side, an element typically overlooked in philosophical films, but when coupled with the loss of focus it occasionally suffers from, its a bit too much to forgive.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
“The Congress” is currently available on Itunes & VOD.