Film review: The Congress (15)

I’VE always thought Robin Wright was an actress who made some remarkable choices, from Forrest Gump to her latter-day Lady Macbeth in House Of Cards to marrying Sean Penn.

The Congress. Picture: Contributed

The Congress (15)

Director: Ari Folman

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Running time: 122 minutes


However, her boldest role to date has to be playing a fictionalised version of herself in Ari Folman’s new mixed media, mixed message fable.

This Wright is an ageing actress being offered her final studio deal: to have her likeness digitally sampled and stored so that her image, voice and expressions can be used by the Miramount (geddit) studio in any manner they wish.

When she resists, the studio head lays it on the line. And since he’s played by Danny Huston, whose default setting nowadays is Movie Weasel, he’s brutal in telling her that since she was always a director’s puppet, all she surrenders now is the illusion of choice.

Eventually she signs because it allows her to retire and care for her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who suffers from a rare medical – and metaphorical – syndrome which gradually deprives him of sight and hearing.

At this stage, The Congress seems bent on becoming a dystopian satire of Hollywood, but once the film flashes up “Twenty years later”, the story shifts lanes and turns into an altogether more hallucinatory journey.

Wright is now an OAP but her alter-ego is a major thirtysomething action star in a rubbishy and wildly popular series called Rebel Robot Robin. “Robin” even does press, uttering the kind of vapid promotional soundbites that make interviewing 16-year-old movie actors such a joy for journalists in the present.

Now the studio wants the real Robin to sign away the rest of her rights, so their technology can turn her into an addictive celebrity soft drink. And if that’s not trippy enough, the studio has relocated to “a restricted animated zone”, only reachable after snorting a psychotropic drug that turns the world into a Fleischer brothers cartoon from the 1930s, with roads made of rainbows, cruise ships with smiley faces and vines that wind themselves orgiastically around you during sex.

How far does idol worship go in this future? In The Congress, you can become whoever you want, and while some opt for historical figures like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I, many more choose superstars such as Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie or, blimey, Yoko Ono. There’s even a very toothy Tom Cruise hanging around, although he may just be the real thing, relying on his phenomenal staying power.

The shift to a very adult form of animation is hardly surprising, since Ari Folman’s previous movie was the Oscar-nominated Waltz With Bashir, an unconventional documentary which recreated the memories of Israeli veterans of the first Lebanon War as anime. The world of The Congress is even more abstract.

Since the film is essentially a protest vote against corporate, pandering storytelling, this elusiveness may even be part of the point.

A Philip K Dick story designed by Robert Crumb; and an unsettling, extraordinary meditation on an increasingly digital and entertainment-fogged world, The Congress is awkward and pretentious but also provocative and pertinent.

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

General release from Friday