‘Waltz With Bashir’ director Ari Folman takes a determined stride into the past with this dizzying, disjointed, always fascinating live action-animation hybrid. ‘The Congress’ takes equal inspiration from chilly, socially prescient science fiction – notably Bertrand Tavernier’s troubling 1980 satire ‘Death Watch’ – the dayglo cartoon fantasies of ‘Heavy Metal’ animator Ralph Bakshi and the psychological, psychedelic fantasy of authors like Michael Moorcock and Alasdair Gray. The result is loopy and eye-ravishing, but just a little too scattershot to really hit home.
Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, a once-famous actress now sliding towards middle age. When her agent (Harvey Keitel – another ‘Death Watch’ throwback) and studio boss (a seedy Danny Huston) come up with a plan to scan Wright’s entire body and use her as a forever-young computer avatar, the money’s just too good to pass up. It’s here the film takes one of several great leaps, carrying us forward 20 years into the ‘animated zone’, where Wright – for reasons left unexplained – attends the Futurist Congress, a meeting of forward-thinkers planning the next step in humanity’s evolution.
There are simply too many ‘for reasons left unexplained’ moments in ‘The Congress’. The use of the animated zone, for instance, makes for scorching visuals, but we’re never given a reason how or why it exists. This is perfectly acceptable in the context of wigged-out experimental sci-fi, but it does leave the viewer swinging in the wind, unsure exactly what’s ‘real’, and struggling to care.
There are moments of mind-bending intensity here, flights of glorious, unrestrained fancy unmatched by any film since the late ’70s. But Folman’s vision is just too personal and obtuse, and the result can feel rather like watching someone else drop acid, enjoying their giddy descriptions of all the pretty colours but unable to fully engage.
Cast and crew