THE CONGRESS (2014)
Running Time: 122 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Ari Folman
Distributor: Drafthouse Films
Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny Huston, Sami Gayle, Michael Stahl-David, Michael Landes, Sarah Shahi, Ed Corbin, Frances Fisher
Ari Folman, who directed THE CONGRESS, states in the production notes that he hopes his new film will make the audience appreciate good, old-fashioned movie-making, with live actors rather than digitally scanned persons that can be manipulated by animators to play any role desired. Yet given the eye candy, THE CONGRESS could have the opposite effect, at least on those people in the theater seats who are open to experimentation in cinema. While the first segment is down-to-earth, dealing with the efforts of a producer and an agent to convince an actress (Robin Wright) to sell her soul and allow herself to be digitalized, most of the remainder, fifty-five minutes’ worth (taking two and one-half years to animate), is psychedelic, resembling an acid trip with stunning imagery. Yet despite all the beauty, the color, the fine acting by Robin Wright, you could not be blamed if you fidget in your seat as the movie is overlong, the dialogue often pretentious, the narrative on the loose side.
Ari Folman, whose terrific WALTZ WITH BASHAR featured an Oscar nominated animation dealing with the filmmaker’s interviews with fellow soldiers in the 1982 Israeli-Lebanese War, sets his sight on what is not so far out, given the outsourcing that threatens American jobs as corporations use workers in the (cheap labor) developing world for their staffs. Robin Wright, who uses her real name throughout, is now forty-four years old and threatened with obsolescence. Al (Harvey Keitel), her agent, tries to convince her to sign a contract with Jeff (Danny Huston), a producer who wants to have her digitally scanned and thereby used for any and all roles for the next twenty years, during which time she will not be allowed to perform live even in a school play. She needs the money to take care of her young son, Aaron Wright (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has a rare disease that threatens his hearing and his eyesight, or at least that’s the diagnosis Dr. Barker (Paul Giamatti), an ear, nose and throat physician.
There are different segments of the dream-like trip taken by Ms. Wright, the final one breaking all the rules by allowing people in the society to be anyone they want to be. Though Danny Huston’s character may be meant to satirize the blood-sucking studio reps that exploit the performers, it’s difficult to find fault with his win-win proposition. Since Hollywood does not treat actresses all that well once they’ve hit the age of forty-five, he gives Robin Wright the chance to remain young in the minds of those who see these animated creations, and she is well compensated for signing the only contract she may be offered. Not so convincing or appealing is the role of her son, Aaron, who flies a kite around the airport near their home hoping to lure a plane to crash into it, as he believes that would cure him of his rare disease.
The film is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s book The Futurological Congress, a sci fi volume loaded with black humor about a hero, Ijon Tichy, who visits the Eighth World Futurological Congress at a Hilton Hotel in Costa Rica. But reading a book and seeing a movie are two different things. If you can’t find a dealer or if you think LSD is not for you, yet you’re curious about taking a “trip,” you’ll likely be of the market that the producers of THE CONGRESS are targeting.
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