The Congress review

The future’s so Wright

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Six years ago, Ari Folman made his name with the devastating marvel that was Waltz With Bashir : a rotoscoped documentary which retold the Israeli writer/director’s experiences of the 1982 Lebanon War. His follow-up, a huge, part-animated sci-fi satire of the film industry, is rather different – defiantly so.

Adapted from Stanisław Lem’s 1971 novel The Futurological Congress , Robin Wright plays an over-the-hill version of herself. But, the fictional Miramount Studios say, there’s a way to save her career. They offer Wright a lucrative once-in-a-lifetime deal: to give up acting forever in exchange for her image and identity. After her body is digitally scanned, the studio will be able to make movies starring her using only computer-generated characters.

It is, obviously, a comment on the technological future of Hollywood, one delivered with wit, style and a performance by Wright so striking that, once the animation kicks in, the film feels slightly poorer without her flesh-and-blood presence. An intentional irony, perhaps. Even so, that is merely one of the three feature-length film plots that Folman tries to ambitiously pack into The Congress .

The story jumps 20 years forward (and not for the last time) to show us Wright attending the Futurlogical Congress: a showcase of new chemical technology that allows audiences to not just watch digital actors but – in their minds – to be them too. It’s here, in this deranged dream-world of animated Cruises and Eastwoods, that The Congress both soars and falls.

Whether visual or thematic, Folman’s bold, eccentric ideas never fail to astound; but they also never truly cohere into a satisfying narrative throughline. Still, given the opportunity to go wild after the success of Waltz With Bashir , Folman’s done exactly that; the riot of imagination on display here makes his filmmaking future look very exciting indeed.

Featuring a career-best performance from Robin Wright and some tremendously twisted animation, The Congress is a weird and wonderful sci-fi satire that maybe shoehorns more ideas than it knows what to do with.

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Stephen is a freelance culture journalist specialising in TV and film. He writes regularly for the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the i, Radio Times, and WIRED.