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THE CONGRESS (review)

congress_ver4THE CONGRESS
Written and Directed by Ari Folman

Starring Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel

Back in 2009, Israeli director Ari Folman won an Oscar for his animated documentary, WALTZ WITH BASHIR. It was powerful, original, and often devastating. For the past five years, Folman has been working hard on his English language debut, THE CONGRESS. While the originality and beautiful animation style from his previous work is still present in Folman’s latest venture, the boldness and bravery that won him the Oscar last time out are notably absent now, and eventually the whole thing just falls flat.

A version of actress Robin Wright (played by none other than Robin Wright) is struggling to get work now that she’s passed the age of forty (clearly Netflix and House of Cards don’t exist in this universe). Robin is continuously let down by the roles her longtime agent Al (Harvey Keitel) offers her, but she has to find someway to finance treatment for her son’s illness. One day, Al approaches Robin with an unusual deal. He takes her to a meeting with Jeff (Danny Huston), the head of Miramount Studios, who makes her an offer that she just cannot refuse. Jeff offers to buy Robin’s physical, emotional, and mental likeness for great sums of money. Her body and emotions will be scanned into a computer, where she can digitally be imported into any film, television show, or commercial. The catch? Robin Wright can never act again. Not on screen, not on stage, not anywhere. She must completely disappear from the public eye, leaving her entire self-image to Miramount Studios. Robin signs the contract and she immediately begins her scanning. Twenty years later, as the contract expires, Robin enters an animated world to attend “The Congress”.

The-Congress

For the first half hour, THE CONGRESS is extremely gripping. It is so easy to commiserate with Robin’s character as she is continually reminded that she is no longer the young, beautiful actress from FORREST GUMP and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. This live-action portion of the film is impeccable, and will certainly remind anyone in doubt that Wright is an excellent actress. Once the film makes its way into animation though, it seems to entirely lose its grip. What began as a smart, slightly restrained film, explodes into a complete mess just moments after the film suddenly becomes a cartoon. The film becomes slightly hard to follow, and viewers may find themselves so bombarded by the films overly-hyperactive visuals that they may just stop caring. We also lose much of the emotion Wright offered in the live action portion of THE CONGRESS. The animated scenes are made even worse by the miscast Jon Hamm, whose voice is so distractingly out of place that it’s hard to focus on anything that his character is saying.

Yes, the animated portion takes up much more of the running time than the live-action scenes do, but those live-action scenes are just so great that they almost make up for the mess that follows. One can’t help but admire Folman’s audacity in making the film, but many may find that the whole thing just gives them a headache. If you’re going to see THE CONGRESS, you might do better ducking out after half an hour.

3 sheep

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