What can one really say about Ari Folman’s bold, breathtakingly alive hybrid movie The Congress? It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, I can promise that much. Half animated, half live-action, all totally blazed to the extreme, this is a colossal artistic statement about Hollywood, art, culture, society, and our unending preoccupation with make-believe and hero worship. It’s also one of the headiest films in recent memory, operating on multiple levels of reality and surreality; this is the cinematic equivalent to 100 hits of super-charged acid. The purposefully sprawling and messy structure plays to the film’s wild and operatic strengths. This isn’t a movie to be taken 100% literally, as it is, at heart, an existential crisis story that begs to be viewed multiple times for maximum appreciation. My Blu-ray has been abused over the last year or so. The phenomenal Robin Wright plays a heightened version of herself, a mid-40’s actress who is about to be abandoned by the major studios, an actress beaten down by the pressures of Hollywood and the demands of the star system. Via her impassioned agent (an super-sharp Harvey Keitel) and an extra-slimy studio chief (Danny Huston, twirling his moustache), she’s given the chance to have her mind, body, and soul digitally transferred into a computer so that her likeness can be used and re-used throughout the years, preserving her “Princess Buttercup” good-looks and charm, thus transforming her into the ultimate movie-star for years and years and years.
The movie makes a 20 year jump cut at the mid-point and leaps head-first into a hallucinatory outpouring of odd and crazily unique Anime-inspired images during the second and third acts, resulting in a film that feels like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on PCP. It seems that the only way that one can enter the movie studio of the future (playfully referred to as Miramount) is to drink a potion which turns you into a digital avatar of yourself, and then, once inside this madcap universe, you’re able to drink yet another potion which can literally turn you into whatever you want. This film plays by its own set of wild and wacky rules and because of that, anything can happen, and I love films that operate in this fashion; I’m always drawn to filmmakers who are interested in challenging themselves and the audience. To say that I grasped all of this mind-bending work of art upon first glance would be to out-right lie; this is a dense, packed-to-the-gills experience, one that shouldn’t be immediately shrugged off as just another esoteric artistic experiment. Folman is the real deal, a man with a singular vision, and now, after Waltz with Bashir and The Congress, he’s a filmmaker that I will actively anticipate each new film with baited breath. Visual art like this needs to be celebrated instead of ignored, and my hope is that this film finds a long and happy life on Blu-ray and streaming.