THE CONGRESS. Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny Houston, Sami Gayle, Paul Giamatti. Directed by Ari Folman. 122 minutes. Rated M (Drug themes, coarse language, an animated sex scene).
The title is not particularly helpful, even though it comes from the original novel, The Futuristic Congress, by Stanislav Lamb. There is a Congress in the middle of the film but the film is concerned with much, much more than the Congress itself.
In 2008, Israeli director, Ari Folman, made an award winning film, Waltz with Bashir. It was concerned with war in Lebanon, massacres and consequent nightmares for some of the participants and victims. What was striking about Waltz with Bashir was that it was an animated film, an animation feature for adults, very serious, graphic, challenging.
It is taken some years for Folman to follow-up with another feature film. Quite a number of international companies contributed to financing it, a difficult project, with both animation and real life performance.
It is not the kind of film that will appeal to a wide audience. Rather, it will have an appeal to those who like to exercise their imagination in response to film, especially to a film which relies on graphic animation for its impact.
The star of the film is Robin Wright, a star in Hollywood and overseas since her breakthrough role in The Princess Bride. The Congress relies on Robin Wright and her impact and her status. There is discussion of The Princess Bride with a scene where Robin Wright ruefully looks at a poster. At the opening of the film, in real life, the actress is discussing her career with her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel) who takes her to see a producer, Jeff (Danny Huston) who upbraids her for not following the path of a successful career, making bad choices in films, bad choices in life. The new (and final) contract that he is offering her is for a complete scan, physical and psychological, so that she will not have to act any more but that companies will produce programs relying on the information and perspectives from the scan. We do see some glimpses of a science fiction film so produced, Rebel Robot Robin!
In the fictitious real life sequences, Robin has two children, and they live at the edge of an airport in the Mojave desert. A young son, Aaron, (Australia’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) is losing his sight and this makes demands on Robin for her decision, especially when she visits Dr Baker (Paul Giamatti).
She opts for the scan, a spectacular sequence, and then drives, 20 years later, to The Congress, transforming during the trip into an animated character, arriving at the Abrahama Hotel, full of animated celebrities and staff, goes to the Congress where she sings, but a revolution is going on and she falls victim.
Robin does have the opportunity to return to real life, searching for her son, meeting Dr Baker, making an option to support her son.
Needless to say, there is much more going on, especially with the vivid imagination in the animation. A point is made towards the end of the film that drugs are used in order to overcome depression and find some kind of truth, but drugs can also be used in a hallucinogenic way, creating a different truth. The animated world, on the other side of reality, is visually bright, active, hallucinogenic.
One might say that Robin Wright was fairly game in agreeing to perform in this film, open to some criticism about her life and career, but contributing to its continuance by appearing in this very unusual film.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released December 4th 2014.