Six years ago, Ari Folman made his name with the devastating marvel that was Waltz With Bashir: a rotoscoped documentary which retold the Israeli writer/director’s experiences of the 1982 Lebanon War. His follow-up, a huge, part-animated sci-fi satire of the film industry, is rather different – defiantly so.
Adapted from Stanisław Lem’s 1971 novel The Futurological Congress, Robin Wright plays an over-the-hill version of herself. But, the fictional Miramount Studios say, there’s a way to save her career. They offer Wright a lucrative once-in-a-lifetime deal: to give up acting forever in exchange for her image and identity. After her body is digitally scanned, the studio will be able to make movies starring her using only computer-generated characters.
It is, obviously, a comment on the technological future of Hollywood, one delivered with wit, style and a performance by Wright so striking that, once the animation kicks in, the film feels slightly poorer without her flesh-and-blood presence. An intentional irony, perhaps. Even so, that is merely one of the three feature-length film plots that Folman tries to ambitiously pack into The Congress.
The story jumps 20 years forward (and not for the last time) to show us Wright attending the Futurlogical Congress: a showcase of new chemical technology that allows audiences to not just watch digital actors but – in their minds – to be them too. It’s here, in this deranged dream-world of animated Cruises and Eastwoods, that The Congress both soars and falls.
Whether visual or thematic, Folman’s bold, eccentric ideas never fail to astound; but they also never truly cohere into a satisfying narrative throughline. Still, given the opportunity to go wild after the success of Waltz With Bashir, Folman’s done exactly that; the riot of imagination on display here makes his filmmaking future look very exciting indeed.
Featuring a career-best performance from Robin Wright and some tremendously twisted animation, The Congress is a weird and wonderful sci-fi satire that maybe shoehorns more ideas than it knows what to do with.