Ari Folman carved out a big name for himself with his excellent documentary-animation Waltz with Bashir, which set the world alight with its beautifully rich story and gorgeous animation. It has been a long time between drinks for Folman, but finally he is back with The Congress – a piece of fiction that is part live-action and part animation. I, and many other film fans, have eagerly being waiting for this and I wasn’t going to miss a chance to see this on a gigantic screen.
Robin Wright plays herself in the film’s deep plot. She is an aging actress that is struggling to find roles that match her strict requirements. Her agent informs her that Hollywood will no longer be using her in films, but she can have one last gig where they scan her body movements, expressions and voice for future use. Fast forward 15 years and Robin Wright is a superstar thanks to her scanned self, and that’s just the beginning of this crazy film.
The Congress sprints out of the gate. Folman’s wonderfully witty script lead the film from the one hilariously deep moment to another. It is an odd mixture, but it operates with ease and the film’s flow never feels unnatural. The dialogue does occasionally slip into heavy-handedness, and yet it remains a dream to listen to – with Huston hitting every comedic peak and Keitel giving a great supporting turn. Once Wright gets into the scanning machine, which is the film’s very best scene, the film goes into another gear – finally kicking its commentary to life.
Following the aforementioned moment, the film moves into animation and becomes something else entirely. Whereas it felt focused in its first hour, the film rapidly goes down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole into mind-numbing madness. It is hard to follow, as this world is completely different to one we know and as such Folman’s vision becomes increasingly more clouded. The animation is no doubt stunning, it is other worldly and feels like it is going to places not capable if Folman hadn’t chosen this form.
The live action scenes definitely work the best and it is hard not to feel cheated by the second half. Folman’s script is driven and fun in the early parts. It is surprising that the live-action scenes also manage to be more beautiful – the cinematography is almost overwhelming, with Englert’s use of colours standing out far above everything else. In addition to this, Wright is great in her live-action scenes, with her vulnerability virtually jumping out of the screen and into your heart – you feel every inch of her desperation.
Once the film jumps time and switches into animation, Folman lets his many wild tangents run away from him – he is putting too many ideas into it and the threads become hard to follow and attach too. Despite it making the film a harder nut to crack, it also makes it linger in the mind due to how challenging it is. There are holes that are easy to spot, but each supposed hole makes you ponder if that is part of Folman’s end game. The Congress is either a work of genius or a beautiful mess, and I don’t think that will become clear until it has been watched multiple times. No matter how confusing it gets, The Congress still manages to remain a must-see.