The Congress (2014)

The Congress sees Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman move away from the more harrowing subject of the war in Lebanon, and turn his gaze on Hollywood to illustrate how this land of make-believe – and our insatiable appetites for mythical stories – could potentially put society in peril. Grappling with our perception of reality, the power of fantasy and our thoughts on human existence, it’s an interesting idea that gets a bit lost in a trippy, kaleidoscopic garden of animation.

Playing herself, Robin Wright stars as an actress on the wrong side of 40, struggling to find roles for a mature woman. Believing her best work is behind her, Wright’s agent (Harvey Keitel) and a “Miramount” studio boss (played by Danny Huston) persuade her to sell her body to science in exchange for a lot money, an early retirement and immortalisation on the big screen (through a computer-generated image) as her more desirable, younger, Princess Bride self. After this, it’s one giant leap for mankind as the film jumps forward twenty years to the Futurist Congress, a gathering showcasing the studio’s latest technology, which allows anyone to cross over and experience life as an animated avatar.

Wright naturally plays herself perfectly, and the rest of the cast is equally up for taking on Hollywood and its more extreme and eccentric tendencies. However, in spite of its able actors, The Congress fails to connect in the same way other Hollywood stories have over the years.

Ambitiously, Folman gives us both live-action and an abundance of psychedelic, animated sequences, but it all amounts to a slightly disjointed production. The events in the real world do not connect harmoniously with the animated one; other characters are neglected in favour of Wright and her many transformations; and the film juggles the future and the past via the two mediums in a way that eventually makes it difficult to distinguish reality from fantasy and to care about any of it.

The Congress is an alluring concept, but Folman shifts gears a few too many times to make this ride as affecting, engaging and enjoyable as it could have been. If, however, the moral of the story is that reality is ultimately what we want it to be, then let’s all jump into a Volkswagen and join Forlman in his lysergic retro world, because it sure is pretty!