Music critic Garry Mulholland theorises that the most experimental track on an album is usually the jump off point for the next. Does that go for film too? The dream sequence in Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir seems ho-hum in comparison to the anything goes nature of The Congress. As beautiful as it is, trying to concentrate on the story will be hard work.
dapted in part from the Stanislaw Lem (Solaris) novel, The Congress is set in the near future where the digital revolution has actors selling their image rights to the studios for a hefty pay out. Playing a version of herself, Robin Wright is an actress who reluctantly agrees to be scanned so 'Robin Wright' can be a star forever while the real Robin Wright can be the doting mum to her ailing son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
ast forward twenty years and an aging Wright arrives at a hotel in a 'strictly animated zone' where the rich indulge in a cartoon alternate reality. Here hallucinogens are insisted on and it's all aboard The Yellow Submarine for some Fear and Loathing with Roger Rabbit in a Cool World where 'Robin Wright' is an idolised star. However, the hotel is attacked by 'naturalists' and help comes in the shape of a kindly animator (Hamm)...
hat's about a third of what's going on. Like Waltz With Bashir, The Congress is a joy to watch and a work to be studied. It's a busy film that offers up a ton of ideas; Folman doesn't attempt to simplify Lem's typically mindboggling weighty philosophical text either, and the movie is simply gorgeous in places.
ut in others one is asked to put in a shift just to keep a handle on things. The craziness throws the trajectory of the story off and with it goes any engagement with Wright's plight. The laws of the universe created aren't explained and Folman keeps moving the goal posts. His dialogue can be stiff and he's managed to garner a wooden performance from Keitel, Wright's agent and friend. With so much going on, what The Congress has to say about identity and choice is difficult ascertain other than they're important.
ut for sheer inventiveness, there is wonderful stuff that demands a second and third viewing, which won't be a travail. One is left to wonder which bizarro moment here Folman will pick to expand on next time.