VOD film review: The Congress
James R | On 10, Dec 2014
Director: Ari Folman
Cast: Robin Wright, Danny Huston
Watch The Congress online in the UK: Amazon Prime Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
Ari Folman blended reality and animation to astonishing effect with Waltz with Bashir, a film that conveyed the other-worldly horror of war. Several years later, he returns with The Congress, a film that sticks reality and animation in a blender – to vastly different results.
Robin Wright stars as Robin Wright, an actress who’s struggling to find work in the no woman’s land of middle age. And so she’s made an offer by Miramount Studios: a digital scan of herself that will allow them to use her likeness in any film they like. The downside? She can never act again. The upside? She can stay like Buttercup from The Princess Bride forever.
It’s a fascinating proposition in a first act that raises all kinds of questions about identity, sexism, acting and Hollywood – in an age where Armie Hammer’s face is CGI-ed into The Social Network and Audrey Hepburn is reanimated for chocolate adverts, the satire cuts even closer. Danny Huston is perfectly cast as the studio executive, his signature slimy charm delivering blunt ultimatums like they’re pick-up lines.
Then? It stops. Fast forwarding several decades, we find ourselves in a drug-steeped world where people prefer to stay high than face the truth: a whirl of cel-shaded celebrities, where the public can be who they want. This warped society is home to everyone from Elvis Presley to Abraham Lincoln and treats us to such bizarre sights as Michael Jackson serving drinks (you’ll double-take several times). Playing out like a cross between Yellow Submarine and Scientology: The Movie, every frame bursts with stunning imagination and ambition and Folman loses himself completely in it. The problem is the script does too.
With no rainbow-coloured straws to grasp at, it’s near impossible to follow the director on his trip, no matter how dazzling the production design is. It’s a pleasure to see Robin Wright getting such an interesting role – and her presence keeps you watching – but this post-modern episode of The Twilight Zone is ultimately lost in the sci-fi haze; and returning to live action with a bump only makes the ride feel even more awkward. Drugs are bad, mmmkay?
The Congress is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.