DVD Review: 'The Congress'

★★★★☆
Director Ari Folman follows up the daring Waltz with Bashir (2008) with an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress, through which he explores the darker side of Hollywood and the human psyche. Robin Wright (playing a version of herself) is an ageing actress - in a world obsessed with youth, beauty and celebrity - given the chance to extend her career’s longevity in exchange for something very precious. The Congress (2013) is be mind-bending fare but the concepts are scarily feasible. Wright (the character) has made so many bad decisions in her career, that she is on her last chance. Her agent (Harvey Keitel) implores her to take one final job, a twenty year contract.

A visit to her doctor (Paul Giamatti) with son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) convinces Wright to agree to having her physicality uploaded, so the studio 'Miramount' can recreate her likeness for any film they see fit. She, conversely, can no longer claim the title of actor. Once her twenty years are up, Wright travels to the Congress of the title at the fully animated Abrahama complex owned by Miramount-Nagasaki and into uncharted territory. This section is painful for Wright and for the viewer, thrust down the rabbit hole and struggling to make sense of past, present and future. Folman is not the only director to challenge our fixation with celebrity in recent years or to swipe at Hollywood directly (Antiviral (2012) and Maps to the Stars (2014) spring to mind) but he is the most ambitious.

He challenges his viewers to take a leap of faith, and focus on the poignant words being spoken by Wright, Giamatti, Keitel and Jon Hamm, rather than being swept away by the fine details of the exquisitely detailed cinematography. Michal Englert's visuals that await during the animated section of the film are a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds meets Disney kaleidoscope. What is on the screen at times is so dazzling as to defy belief, let alone comprehension. Wright is excellently charming, without any sort of ego, in this film; itself a work of art that not only imitates not only life in general, but uses actual details of Wright’s career to add a certain piquant to the narrative.

As Wright seeks the truth, so does the viewer, that is inescapable. Equally unmissable is Folman’s comment, not only on Hollywood but on the fear and need that produces the drive for youth and beauty that the movie industry thrives on. This is the sort of film that requires a girding of the loins to watch but that definitely enriches the debate on life in the 21st century. Both DVD and Blu-ray releases of contain featurettes peering behind the scenes of the film and the animation process which prove enlightening - especially for those who are fans of Folman’s style of converting live action to animation. It's a distinct method that perfectly serves his purposes in his trip to The Congress.

Maryann O'Connor | @onlyonemaryana

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