The Congress (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The Congress opens theatrically this Friday, August 29th, at Cineplex in Toronto (Varsity), Montreal (Forum), and Vancouver (Fifth Ave).
A different perspective on futuristic dystopias is the view of the utopia without limitation. What does society do when faced with freedom without restriction? The Oculus Rift has already made it possible to experience virtual reality in an entirely new way. Technology has afforded us promise to rebuild reality, one that is limitless in its use and format.
The first part of the film is a combination of drama and philosophical discussion about the actor versus the work. Second part, posits a mish-mash of ideologies, so it is hard to make heads or tails as to what Folman is trying to say with this picture.
Ari Folman’s The Congress is a film loosely inspired by The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem (author of Solaris). In the novel, the main character Ijon Tichy finds himself at a congress where everyone is under a hallucinogenic influence, hereby creating an alternate reality of bliss versus surreal horror. In the film, The Congress, Robin Wright plays herself, only in this cinematic world she’s an unreliable actress and mother to two teenagers, one of them who has special needs. After much debate she agrees to sell her film rights and image to Miramount studios. They will use her image to digitally manipulate it into the films they choose. She also must agree never to act again. Twenty years later Wright is invited to The Futurological Congress where technology has given people the ability to be whomever they want via animated characters. Miramount offers to sell her image to people who want to be her.
Robin Wright is the type of actress who can convey a feeling and even a full-blown reply to a question using a subtle gesture or cock of the eyebrow. She uses these abilities in full force portraying grace in a fallen character and women who is protective of the children she’s sacrificed so much for. Harvey Keitel plays her manager Al. In one particular scene, Al gives a touching scene to Wright exposing the complicated relationship between manager and nurturer. Wright goes from laughter to anger to agony in a few minutes. It’s a great scene and pivotal to Wright’s future catharsis in the story.
The first part of the film is a combination of drama and philosophical discussion about the actor versus the work. Second part, posits a mish-mash of ideologies, so it is hard to make heads or tails as to what Folman is trying to say with this picture. Although I find the story a bit tenuous with its varied structures, Folman does create an interesting discussion here about film, or rather about film and it’s production. As production companies try to shape movies to conform with what they believe audience demand, the actor must conform to those molds in order to keep their box office value and maintain a living. On top of that, the film touches upon the audience’s need for a more realistic fix in their escapism, thus what is film? Is it an artistic expression realized through direction and acting, or is it feeding a need for grandeur, money, and spectacle.
Folman does create an interesting discussion here about film, or rather about film and it’s production.
When movies were first presented to an audience, people would run away from the realistic cinematic train. Nowadays you can plug into any game console to be any superhero of your choosing or any actress you admire through the click of a button. What if that superhero or that actress was merely an image you could barter or sell? In many ways, The Congress is an exposition of the now: ie. copyright debates. That’s the part that really stuck with me. The continual thread in the film though is Wright trying to find her disabled son to see if he’s survived the “utopian” future built of avatars and dreams. Although this subplot drives the story forward, it adds little to the profound ideas presented earlier in the film.
It may be a jumble of plots and ideas, but this film is beautifully rendered. Max Richter provides a haunting soundtrack and each frame is rife with nostalgic animation. Familiar characters of all kinds lurk in the corners of the visual field. As much as Robin Wright the mother pulled at my heart strings, I wish this film had a tighter plot or at least settled on one. Surreally though, The Congress is quite the trip.
The Congress may be a jumble of plots and ideas, but this film is beautifully rendered. Max Richter provides a haunting soundtrack and each frame is rife with nostalgic animation.