Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie with Abe: The Congress

The Congress
Directed by Ari Folman
Released July 19, 2014

When a director knocks it out of the park, it’s understandable that his successive project will be met with high expectations. “Waltz with Bashir” was a formidable achievement on the part of Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, transcending genre as an animated documentary in which its subject, the director itself, recalled his memories of the Lebanon War in the most profound and affecting fashion. His follow-up film is hardly a documentary but does include a considerable amount of animation, an impossibly intriguing concept realized as a compelling but often frantic and jumbled piece of cinema.

In a universe that clearly isn’t meant to be ours, Robin Wright plays a version of herself, an eternally difficult actress who hasn’t achieved a dramatic career comeback with her role in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and is instead remembered for parts from her heyday like “Forrest Gump” and “The Princess Bride.” Because her career has tanked, her agent (Harvey Keitel) comes to her with an offer – the opportunity to be digitized, which includes an agreement that she never act again while the studio uses her computer-captured images to manufacture performances that keep her the same age forever.

This dark parody of Hollywood manages to unmask some of the harsher truths about fame and celebrity, and it’s hard not to be drawn in by the drama of some of the film’s more contemplative moments in this futuristic film. Where the film takes a wholly startling turn is when an older Wright attends an “animated futurist congress,” at which point the film becomes animated. It’s a strange but not completely unexpected device, and it renders the film a strange, detached feel that’s partially effective but also a bit difficult to connect to and grasp. It’s both captivating and perplexing, an odd combination that’s only somewhat satisfying.

“The Congress” succeeds most in its music, as Folman once again teams with composer Max Richter, who has written a mesmerizing and powerful score that underlines the permanent gravity of material decisions. Richter’s soundtrack achieves the effect that Folman’s film is going for and only half meets. Wright delivers an appropriately self-reflective performance, and she’s ably supported by a very well-cast Danny Huston as the studio executive who wants to digitize her and Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son. There are moments where “The Congress” seems to be a great film, and as a whole it manages to be, at the very least, one of the most interesting films of the year.


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