BUFF 2014 Review: ‘The Congress’

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Film: The Congress (Le congrès)
Directed by: Ari Folman
Starring: Robin Wright

A film that is a live action-animation hybrid that plays dual roles as a middle finger to the studio system and an exploration in who we perceive ourselves to be? Am I dreaming? Is this movie real? It is real and it’s a perfect representation of how performances are becoming more of a product for studios to market instead of a piece of artistic quantity.

Robin Wright (House Of Cards) plays the title role as herself, in a sense, as she is given an offer from Miramount (satirical wink at film studios) to give her last performance of her career. Here is the catch though, her last role is stepping into a machine and having herself digitally rendered to be used as more of a product of Miramount that they market instead of an independent being with a unique performance.

After much deliberation with her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel), and the studio executive, Jeff (Danny Huston), Robin decides to agree to the offer, which after 20 years will expire, and she will have to renew again. Taking the deal to spend time with her medically declining son, Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Robin is faced with a much more morally contemplative decision when she returns 20 years later to renew her deal with Miramount. After huffing some hallucinating substances required to get onto the studio lot, Robin is not ready for what lies ahead in what is now some weird alternate (animated) world where people can be whoever they want to be.

The Congress, successfully splices live action and animation together but you can definitely see that the director, Ari Folman, made the film he wanted without caring what Hollywood thought of him. Folman paints a portrait that is so critical on what we know as film making today. He explores the current state of Hollywood and satirically so with the concept of digitally rendering an actor to be used at the studio’s behest whenever they want. Paul Walker and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s posthumously-CGI makeovers for Fast and Furious 7, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, came to mind in that it is not the actors having control over their performances anymore but the studio being able to control what product they want. “The Congress,” may play as satire but it is a cautionary tale in creative output in film making today. Big brother (the studio system) is always watching you and unfortunately in most cases, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you which results in a lack of creative freedom.

The animated sequences of the film could not have ever been live action in that the ideas and visuals are way too big to be plodded down by cheap and uninspired CGI. The idea of having a world where through the use of some hallucinogenic drugs (more of a metaphor for the want to be someone else) can simulate the feeling of being someone else speaks directly to the public’s reliance on media today. We as people in 2014 America are subjected to unrelenting images of people being represented perfectly; force-feeding the idea that models and famous actors are the people we should aspire to be. In The Congress though, actors and their respective likenesses are huffed and injected, making the status quo of that universe superficial and arguing the sense of individualistic identity.

Yes, I know that is about as thematically deep as you can get with a film but The Congress, is supplemented by a fantastic voice cast backed up by an equally great live-action cast. Robin Wright playing herself, a trope used way too many times in film, is used perfectly as her character is a representation of the aforementioned product of a studio and she represents the struggle to break that mold with ease.

Danny Huston plays a weirdly sympathetic and maniacal studio executive, who seems like in the beginning, does not care for Robin but when things change for the worse, he is trying his hardest to not become a product of his environment. Jon Hamm (Mad Men) voices the character, Dylan Truliner, a guide of sorts to Robin who is unfamiliar with the new world she is living in. He may play a character sort of shoehorned into a relationship but he is also a perfect example of someone in society today that is so obsessed with a human being that he must be with that person.

Last but certainly not least though is Paul Giamatti’s performance as Dr. Barker, the man who tried for years to cure Aaron’s (Robin’s son) deafness and slight dementia. A man who seemingly refuses to conform to the new world (in a silent way) turns out to be one of the most compelling characters. His morals seem untarnished as he chooses to help out the old world despite the ruin and live out his humble life until he dies. He chose to do this instead of becoming someone who he is not in the animated alternate universe.

The Congress, being one of my favorites of 2014 so far must be seen by everyone who wants to break out into the entertainment business today. Not only that but to a regular human being, you will be awe-struck by the visuals and compelled by the themes that lie within.

Score: A-

Written by: Sam Cohen (Follow him on Twitter)

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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