Monday, October 7, 2013

Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: THE CONGRESS - Javis' Take

Directed by: Ari Folman
Written by: Ari Folman, based on Stanislaw Lem's novel, THE FUTUROLOGIST CONGRESS
Starring: Robin Wright, Kodi-Smith McFee, Harvey Kietel, Jon Hamm, and Paul Giamatti
Synopsis: After actress Robin Wright agrees to be "scanned" by a movie studio, said technology evolves into a dangerous extreme.

THE CONGRESS is a movie that feels like it shouldn't exist in the sheer sense of its scope and the depiction of its main character, a fictionalized Robin Wright. The film deals with so many very dense themes about life and identity that it feels like an insanely Herculean task to even go through with it. Love, duty, regret, the sense of self, are all things that THE CONGRESS tackles with half of the film being one of the saddest dramas I've seen, and the other half as a wonderfully designed animated movie that expands the world in the most beautifully surreal way possible.

THE CONGRESS is a very ambitious movie, and it will warrant a few rewatches to catch everything that the director was trying to accomplish. On the simplest of terms, the movie deals with Robin Wright coping with the waning side of her career, as she is washed up and no one wants to work with her. She is given a second chance to carry on her acting career by letting herself be "scanned" into a computer, and then the studios basically own her likeness in order to have her scan "act" in various movies. This would give her career a whole new breath of life at the cost of losing her identity. Then about halfway through, the movie switches to a fantastical animated movie.

The movie attempts to build a case of technology's effect on the concept of human identity. This is something very important to look at as more and more of our current identity is based on how we are perceived and how we act online through social media and even in our writing. The movie is split up both stylistically and thematically into two sections. The first is the live action section where Robin struggles with her decision of being scanned or not. Dividing the movie is the an emotional speech by Harvey Keitel's Al gives to Robin, which is definitely the highlight of the movie. While she obviously does get scanned, the animated section is showing the aftermath of living in the world where a person has been reduced to nothing but a template.

Most of the contention of the movie seems to center around the last half. It takes place 20 years after the initial scanning. Robin is now an sci-fi superstar, or at least her scan is. Technology has now advanced so much that people are now substituting themselves to an animated world causing a whole other sort of identity issues. In here, the studio holds the Futurologist Congress, where Robin goes to give a speech about the new development where other people can take on the identity of others, she realizes that she doesn't want to become a commodity or a product.

This last part of the movie is not so straightforward, and what's worse is that the animation lends itself to more surreal "what is real and what isn't" guessing game that doesn't let up until the end. This part in particular could be frustrating because the movie bombards you with some heavy themes about identity while constantly shifting between stream-of-consciousness flashbacks, animated hallucinations, and explanations of new rules of the world. A major driving motivation for Robin during this part of the movie is Robin's relationship and search for her son, Aaron, in this new surreal landscape. The strength of their relationship is not defined as well in the beginning of the movie, so her sense of urgency just felt odd.

On the topic of Robin Wright, this will hopefully be remembered as a career highlight for the actress. Between the self-deprecating version of herself that she has to play and all of the abuse and condescension that her character has to endure throughout the movie, it is simply amazing to see her work.

This is definitely an emotional and very personal movie. This film is in good company with other movies that tackle huge issues about life that are beyond those of the individual story, like CLOUD ATLAS and SYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK. It's strange, but by the time that the movie ends, I knew that I was moved and the movie left me sad, yet I couldn't explain why. So on a very emotional level, this was a very enjoyable movie that is inventive, original, and daring in its scope. Regardless, the last half, which contains the majority of the issues of the movie, it is a movie that needs to be experienced.

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