What We’re Watching: ‘The Congress’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“The Congress”

2.5/5 stars

Promotional poster for "The Congress."
Promotional poster for “The Congress.”

“The Congress” looks at pressing social issues through a fantastical lens, crafting a cautionary tale of a semi-animated dystopia in which individuals become products.

Written and directed by Ari Folman, the futuristic film centers on the fickle actress Robin Wright, who actually plays a version of herself.

Desperately seeking money for her chronically ill son, Wright reluctantly agrees to sell a digitally scanned version of her body to a film enterprise, allowing the company to place her image in any future film and rendering her immortal.

As the movie progresses, the viewer learns about Wright’s Hollywood-hungry world through subtle cues, like the judging eyes of passersby or Wright’s own body language as she confronts an executive or even a fellow celebrity.

For most of the film’s runtime, though, the viewer is randomly dropped into a surreally animated world, and information is parcelled out through brief and cryptic exchanges of dialogue. And while this unconventional approach gives life to Folman’s imaginative universe, it comes at a hefty price.

Incoherence plagues the majority of the film, overshadowing moments that should lend themselves to feelings of wonder. Folman ambitiously sets up a host of storylines and relationships at the start the movie, but none are ever fully developed.

A passionate sex scene between an animated Wright and her animator Dylan (Jon Hamm) is unintentionally hilarious, simply because their relationship was never really explained.

Similarly, the relationship between Wright and her son Aaron is supposed to be an emotional through line for the narrative, but the relationship is so thinly conceived that the thread often snaps.

The film attempts to tackle identity, loss and existentialism, but it fails to convey the complexities of those issues. Ultimately, “The Congress” tries to say so much that it ends up saying very little at all.

Still, the film isn’t a complete disaster. Though the finished product falls a bit short, Folman has all the right instincts and ambitions for a film of this genre.

In an era when science fiction films are dominated by generic YA adaptations and superheroes, it’s refreshing to see more artistic and unconventional works come out of the woodwork.

Yet even sci-fi blockbusters like “Catching Fire” and “The Winter Soldier” didn’t sacrifice coherency for ambition.

Released: July 24
Director: Ari Folman (“Waltz with Bashir”)
Genre: Sci-Fi
Cast: Robin Wright (“Forrest Gump,” “House of Cards”), Harvey Keitel (“Reservoir Dogs”), Jon Hamm (“Madmen”)

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