Congress, The (2013)

Visionary in the worst possible way, Folman’s live-action/animation hybrid packs in so many ideas about time, legacy and existence that it all seems so muddled, uneven and uninvolving.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review #2,589

Dir. Ari Folman
2013 | Israel /Germany | Animation/Drama/Sci-Fi | 123 min | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scene and nudity

Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle
Plot: Decades after catapulting to stardom, Robin Wright decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Twenty years later, with her digital double rising to stardom and contract expiring, she is invited to take part in The Congress convention and make her comeback.
Awards: Nom. for SACD Prize – Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Virtual Reality; Legacy & Existence
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

This is a colossal disappointment from Ari Folman after making one of the greatest films from the 2000s with Waltz with Bashir (2008).  The Congress sure is a visionary work, and those who love it will attest to that; likewise, I think it is visionary as well, but in the worst possible way.  I rarely turn films off halfway but I came quite close to doing so with this. 

Based on Stanislaw Lem’s (best-known for ‘Solaris’) 1971 sci-fi novel, ‘The Futurological Congress’, Folman’s film places Robin Wright front and center as an actress playing herself, who is persuaded to sign a 20-year contract to give up all rights to her image in order for a movie studio to digitise her into a computer-animated version of herself. 

Basically, she doesn’t have to act anymore and gets paid with the box-office success of her ‘avatar’. More importantly, the world stands at the precipice of a technological breakthrough so wild that it requires Folman to render it in animation (a stark contrast to the film’s live-action first-third). 

“I want to make you young forever. That’s what we’re gonna do.”

This shift to animation is either stunning or noxious depending on how you feel about the film—its wacky, colourful surrealism is meant to mimic the hallucinogenic experience that these ‘drugged’ characters are subjecting themselves to. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy any of this—the pretty smokescreen that hides the mess within.  It all seems so muddled, uneven and uninvolving that at some point its themes of time, legacy and existence become non-consequential. 

Folman does weave into the narrative a mother-and-son storyline as Wright (or whomever she has become) tries to care, and subsequently, locate her lost son who is suffering from Usher syndrome. 

It’s meant to provide an emotional context in an artificial world of digital beings, but I find myself feeling nothing but apathy.  Japanese anime has produced these kinds of films about technological virtual realities with much more dexterity and focus, for instance, Paprika (2006) or Belle (2021). 

Grade: D



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