The Congress
dir-scr Ari Folman
prd Reinhard Brundig, Sebastien Delloye, Piotr Dzieciol, Ari Folman, David Grumbach, Eitan Mansuri, Ewa Puszczynska, Robin Wright
with Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Jon Hamm, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle, Michael Stahl-David, Michael Landes, Sarah Shahi, Christopher B Duncan, Matthew Wolf
release Isr 26.Sep.13, US Sep.13 aff, UK Oct.13 lff
13/Israel 2h02
The Congress
Going digital: Wright

keitel huston hamm
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Congress A film of two halves, this brain-bending drama/thriller is either a provocative exploration of identity in an increasingly digital age or an indulgent visual kaleidoscope that only the filmmaker can understand. Either way, it's bracingly original and often thrilling to watch.

Robin Wright (playing a version of herself) is living in a converted airport hangar with her kids (Smit-McPhee and Gayle) when her agent Al (Keitel) arrives with an unusual job offer: the Miramount Studios head (Huston) wants to buy Robin's image, digitise her and carry with an animated actress while Robin herself is free to do anything but act. In need of time to care for her son, she signs a 20-year contract. Two decades later the technology has advanced significantly, and she's invited to appear at the Futurists Congress held in an animated reality.

The first half of the film is a lacerating look at Hollywood's desire to consume its own products. Everyone wants Robin to be the rising star from The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump instead of the more challenging actress who made "lousy choices". Meanwhile she's worried about her image, and doesn't want her animated self to appear in Nazi movies or sci-fi. These scenes are funny and surprisingly smart.

Then the film shifts to the animated Congress, a riot of colourful characters who echo our memories of the art form from 1930s Disney shorts to current videogames. These scenes are just as witty, with cameo glimpses of famous faces telling us that in this animated realm people can choose to be whoever they want. And where are they "really"? Living drugged-up Matrix-style lives in drab cities they don't even remember.

There is so much going on that the film feels overwhelming, especially since it's impossible to keep the themes in focus as the plot surges forward and then stalls in various surreal scenarios. Quite a lot of the movie is exhilarating to watch on a big screen, even as we kind of lose the thread of the whole reality versus identity issue. But it's so rare to see a movie that challenges us in such a bold way that adventurous moviegoers should catch it when they can.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 4.Oct.13 lff

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall