Reviewed by: Tristan Jordan: The Congress directed by Ari Folman, starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti, and Jon Hamm. More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood.
Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in “The Congress” convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema.
[Disclaimer: All reviews are noted as they are viewed, while in progress. As an auteur, a musician, and an artist, my preference is to experience all works as they come-unbiased. I don’t want to know ANYTHING about what I am about to see, expect anything from it, or judge it prematurely.]
My impression initially was a film that paints an apathetic picture of what it means to be a woman trying to live life and find meaning against the backdrop of the inner Hollywood workings portrayed unapologetically as a soulless, cannibalistic, vulture.
At first glance the characters seem like they might fit a cookie-cutter mold most movie-goers are familiar with. A single, aging mom(Robin Wright) struggling with a changing cultural dichotomy. A son played by(Kodi Smit-McPhee) used as a foil for those yet untainted by materialism and ego, a daughter(played by Sarah Wright) used as foil for a more animated understanding portrayed as jaded and sarcastic of “the biz”. Both reflect conflicting sides of the lead actress’s internal struggle.
With a blatant homage to actuality (i.e. a studio titled Miramount, going so far as to actually change the signage on the front of the alluded to portmanteau in one particular shot. Having been through said gate multiple times myself, I can attest to that personally), I can only make assumptions as to the experiences that may have led to the writer/director Ari Folman to that particular reference.
A truly phenomenal cast is able to express (and foreshadow) their roles to the utmost. The veil between actor and character is blurred (and later, literally) as each cast member seemingly feels the tinge of truth about the subject matter portrayed.
There is a whole plethora of text and subtext related to technology, the imminent digitization of the human condition, the dehumanizing aspect of entertainment and it’s division between an actor’s role and the actor, fact and fiction, all distorted through our own lens of perception (or obsession) of celebrity (and to a larger extent, fantasy).
As a longtime nerd, artist, and fan of science fiction & fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised when the movie takes a sudden turn and begins to paint an LSD laced Tex Avery fever dream of a dystopian future that I can only describe as some kind of hybrid between Heavy Metal, Cool World (yeah, bet you forgot about that), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Sucker Punch, and The Matrix.
The Final Take-The best art – be it comedy, drama, horror, or whatever medium suits the hands that work it – speaks from the truth that people know but often find it difficult to speak. I can’t praise the film for being subtle, but I can applaud it for being honest without shame. Albeit, dangerously bordering on confusing for any viewer not prepared for what they are about to see.
All things considered in my opinion, the film is about choice, love, humanity, the masks we wear, and the strength of each and everyone of us as individuals to overcome the raging sea of uncertainty around us.
P.S. Special commendation to Paul Giamatti for always being spectacular, no matter how minor the role. A salute to Robin Wright for the courage required to take a role that some might perceive as very close to the vest. Harvey Keitel, for being able to create a seamless middle ground between Mr. Wolf and a fully fledged human being with (and aware of) his own faults.
Summation: 3.5 out of 5 stars. In Theatres August 29th Currently Available on iTunes / On-Demand