Thursday 4 September 2014

Review: The Congress

World of Blackout Film Review

The Congress Poster

The Congress
Cert: 15 / 123 mins / Dir. Ari Folman
WoB Rating: 5/7

Have you ever seen a film which you thoroughly enjoyed, but your summation to other people is "well, I can tell you what happened, but I'm a bit more vague on what it's about"? That. A beguiling combination of live-action and 2D animation, The Congress feels like a present-day tribute to The Matrix and Yellow Submarine.

Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, a famous yet troubled actress feeling increasingly left behind by the film industry with each passing year as she raises her two teenage children alone. With the acting work just about dried up, Miramount studios make her a tantalisingly lucrative offer: sell the rights to your image, your emotions, your soul, and never need to act in-person again…

Now. There are some fascinating ideas about the future of digital entertainment presented in The Congress, dressed up to seem satirically exaggerated, even though the viewer knows full well they're not. A lot of the notions in the first act which seem borderline dystopian are actually the logical progression of the way the business is headed (for example, imagine explaining Big Brother to the average TV viewer in the 1960's; it'd seem pointless at best and like some obscene sci-fi at worst). The first act deals with Robin's "current" situation and the contract presented by studio boss Jeff (Danny Huston) through her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel). So far, so through the looking glass. The second act of the film is animated, and it's at this point that the fanciful notions presented not half an hour earlier will begin to seem like the telephone directory, by comparison…

The disjointing thing (for me), is that the overall concept of The Contract and what it entails is explained clearly and painstakingly (as it is to Robin, essentially), whereas the animated section isn't really. There's a brief pre-amble from a security guard explaining (again, to Robin and the audience) that she's entering 'a strictly animated zone', she pops an ampoule and it's felt-tip central. We get used to the world and its mechanics along with Robin, and for all its kookiness, it still makes sense (within the context of the story). The film's strength lies in that no matter how batshit-crazy it gets, the plot never pulls you out of the moment and back into your seat; it's hallucinogenically mesmerising, and makes sense in the same way that a dream does while you're in it.

The film's final act returns us to live action, and it was here that I pretty much admitted defeat with the plot. As an inverse-reaction to itself, The Congress seems to somehow explain less and less as it goes on, despite the characters giving a running synopsis of what's happening. The fault here lies with the viewer, in this case. As I can't explain why the wheels fell off for me without spoiling the plot, I can only leave you to watch the film and then ask me "What are you talking about? That made perfect sense."

Stunningly beautiful in both concept and execution, but not to be taken on lightly or without a full span of concentration. A film which seemt to be a metaphor for another metaphor, The Congress is one of the finest works I've seen this year, but I know for a fact that I only understood about half of it…

Oh, and I'm pretty certain that on the animated cruise-ship, one of the robot bellboys is using R2-D2 as a floor polisher. Look out for that.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Representative of parts of it, but not of the whole.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
For the first two acts, yes.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
Almost certainly. What that is? That's what's beyond me.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
Cinema's nice, but you won't lose too much by watching this at home.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
I will.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
There bloody well is, an'all! Right at the top of the animated segment. Mint.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
Come on, help me out here. Tell me why the final segment is as great as the first two.
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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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