The Congress (2013)


Delightful in its concept and its animation yet somewhat lost in a slight and small maze of confusion in the execution of its plan. Only in story terms mind you where ideas and plot start growing in befuddlement and messiness as we journey along in this strange and glorious cartoon world with hand drawn visuals truly adding whack and whizz to the film. 

A wonderful mix of live action and animated design tell the story of Robin Wright (Robin Wright) taking on a new choice that will leave her never needing to act again as science can use her features to have a Wright copy act for her. This will give her time to look after her two children, especially her son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who suffers with a deteriorating sight and hearing deficiency. Robin has nearly crushed every chance given to her so with the help of her agent (Harvey Keitel) and the words of pushy contract cruncher of Jeff (Danny Huston) can she make it in the real world and in the developed illustrated land of the Futurological Congress? 

That was one of the harder plot summaries I’ve had to write just because the story is so out there and it does get muddled and lost numerously in the scope of this mad yet genius idea. It’s all alright to start off with and then as it gets further into the animation side of things the story starts swaying back and forth mirroring the dreamlike wafts of the cartoon environment. There’s possibly too much in here that just ends up feeling mixed in or thinly stretched. It is sort of difficult to keep track between the science angle, the acting angle, the avatars angle and so on and so on. Then there’s the main story of Robin and her son and that feels like it crops up for a while and then vanishes again. There’s no real consistency in what part of her story is being told so you never really utterly feel for her, which is a shame because if some story aspects were dropped there could have been a shorter story to lap up and a more engaging character to invest in.

Being directed by Ari Folman who also directed ‘Waltz with Bashir’, there comes the stunning animated side of things and he knows how to direct this side of things really well, as each new cartoon image grows into the frame or floats out of it leaving you almost open mouthed at how sumptuously imagined it all is. Of course a huge credit and virtual pat on the back has to go to each and every soul in the animation department who have managed to create some acid infused land of fantasy, vanity and future. There are constantly sprouting flowers or hallucinogenic sights that keep you transfixed, yes the story may not all be in one piece but the animation more than makes up for that misgiving.

The first time we venture into the animated arena is done so well, the image of Wright suddenly looking at herself in the car rear view mirror as a cartoon version and then the world drops away and becomes drawn and coloured. It’s actually quite stunning before it really gets trippy as her car/boat thing sails along a rainbow road surrounded by ships and whales. It’s a surreal and splendid example of how interesting animation can be and I was lost in some of the otherworldly ideas presented. From people turning into Christ or Marilyn Monroe to a bouncing Hitler this place has it all in massive bundles of energy and dazzling striking flair. A Grace Jones muse and what I think was a Tom Cruise figure even turn up to add more weirdness to proceedings. I did fall in love with the animation, there’s so much going on and there is an incredible and astounding amount of detail in each shot. 

There’s not much wrong in the way of visuals in the real world either. In the first part the flicking shutters of bright white light in the awesomely designed dome that Wright steps into to have her face and mannerisms computerized is big on scale and the story spoken by Keitel’s character as the flashing strobes of camera work do their thing really add atmosphere. Robin Wright’s home design is simple but as dreamlike as the cartoon world, what with it’s fluttering windsocks and kites. The other bookend sees a grungy take with people in rags and brown attire left to queue and hope for a new glam life in the Congress, this future even with the airships and clean doctors office seems void, a very apt feeling for what Wright is now feeling in wake of what may have happened to her son. There’s a strange mix of live action production design that helps aid the visuals of the story if not really helping the story itself. 

Robin Wright is fantastic as this central female character, herself but not herself in a world where she can’t face the fact technology is taking over. Her voice work sells the character just as well as when she’s physically on screen. After a lull in career after highs of ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘The Princess Bride’ she’s back with a vengeance and this film plays on that totally. Wright is an actress not to be messed with as she takes control of this zany show with both hands and makes it hers. Harvey Keitel only serves as the first third act mentor but his reciting of events leading him to be an agent is greatly told and as he tries persuading Wright to why having a computer image of you acting instead is better you buy into the reasons, a solid example of how great an actor he still is. Danny Huston is suitably dark and twisted still with that needed loyal side as Jeff as he rips into Robin one minute and then looks out for her in the Congress the next. 

Extremely psychedelic, capturing and odd this film champions in stunning animation even if at times the wacky world loses interest slightly. There’s some fascinating ideas here about the future, computers and the like, but sadly they do kind of get lost amongst everything else going on. It’s thanks to Robin Wright and the animation crew that the film is as fantastical and brilliant as it is. 



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