And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
From its premise alone, "The Congress" is a film that striked my attention. A situation only reinforced by the unveiling of its stupefying trailer. Following the international success of his 2008 animated documentary "Waltz with Bashir" (that won a César, a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), Ari Folman continues to blur the line between live-action and animation, reality and fiction, imagination and dreams. His new feature entirely resonates around the figure of Robin Wright, whose part is a variation of herself, her career ("Princess Bride" and "Forrest Gump" are explicitly mentioned), her family (she also has two kids), her doubts and fears (the actress already went twice through performance capture, for "Beowulf" and "A Christmas Carol"). For the daring accomplishment that she delivers here, her performance alone should already be in the running for Best Leading Actress awards.
Her relationship with her agent is more complex than it seems and emotion really surges in a tremendous scene during the scanning process. Only surrounded by lights, not knowing exactly what's ahead of her, Wright delivers a range of emotions that will break your heart, as Keitel is there to help her and slowly reveals himself too in the process. I could feel David Lynch vibes here (the torments of the Hollywood actress). OK I'm a hardcore Lynch fan, but still: Folman recently revealed "INLAND EMPIRE" is a film he adores. Giamatti is great too and brings a lot of the empathy you can (like me) already have for the actor. Smit-MacPhee gives a genuinely moving performance, not emphasizing his character's burden, even though you actually see more of his character in the animated section of the film.
Intricate, simply and effectively directed, well acted, very moving and not lacking some touches of humor (especially with the character of the Faustian studio exec), the first part of the film is an accomplishment of its own. Then comes the animated section. For a reason that I'll let you discover, people in the film's future can use drugs to project themselves into animated characters and live their lives through them. They can morph into any person or object they like, and a monumental Congress where Robin Wright is invited should tell the world more about this new pyschotrop technology. A character voiced by Don Draper himself (Jon Hamm) plays a pivotal role in the actress's journey to find back her reality, her world, and her son.
The transition from live-action to animation is quite abrupt, not only for the obvious style changes, but because the substance of the film itself has now turned into a more metaphysical quest. The link between one actress's choice to be "forever young" (as sung by Robin Wright herself in a fantastic Bob Dylan cover) and the choice of the entire human race to live a dreamed life first seemed to me a bit weak. It takes some time to immerse oneself in the film's chaotic universe, with its look inspired by the Fleischer cartoons of the 1930's (Popeye, Betty Boop). Early drawings from the film's production actually suggested a much more realistic style for the characters, similar to the one from "Waltz with Bashir". I wonder what happened, was this change of visual guideline an early decision or a choice to surprise even more the potential spectators of the film. As it is, the animated crowd at the Congress echoes the wild fanfare of animated figures in "Paprika".
Fortunately, the more you dive into the film's journey, the more you learn to let go of your prejudices and questions. The film is truly a trip, that demands to open your own doors of perception, so your tears may flood in. As a fantastic echo of the initial sequence, the last one is a true tearjerker that nicely wraps the whole film in a coherent, or at least very emotional, way. It took me some time to go back to reality, and figure out where I was (though I made the task harder by watching the film in a theatre I almost never go to). As I made my way back home,watching the people around me in the streets and in the subway was a confusing spectacle I really did not expect: my frontier between animation and reality was blurred for a few minutes after leaving the theatre.
Finally, the emotional core and inventivity of "The Congress" sweep the minor quibbles I have about the film's structure and plot turns. I can only stand in awe of a film so daring, original and honest. It's been a very long time since I had a journey that exciting in a movie theatre. At 2 hours of runtime, the film never drags along and you never have a hint at what the next scene will be. Moreover, I do not feel like any of its subtexts are wasted, whether it be the political references, the end of the movie star as we know it, or the eternal love for our children. It is also a great homage to telling stories, with nods to sci-fi action flicks and Kubrick ("Dr Strangelove"). A final note for composer Max Richter ("Waltz with Bashir", "Perfect Sense") whose score once again resonates deeply.
Summary: Hold tight, as the ending for "The Congress" truly pays off. It is, all in all, one of the most amazing films you will ever see.
Movie Parliament Rating: MAJORITY GOVERNMENT (What does this mean ?)
By Movie Parliament Minister for Foreign Affairs,
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