One of the most audaciously ambitious (and visually entrancing) films I remember seeing, The Congress is, at times, intriguing.
At other times, it’s pretentious.
Perhaps that’s why it’s never precisely entertaining.
Satire is The Congress’ primary intent: satire of the way Hollywood does business; of our society’s use of technology; of individuals’ obsession with celebrity, fantasy and entertainment; of the pharmaceutical industry and narcotics trade, which writer/director Ari Folman directly links; of sexism and ageism; and of much more.
At times, the satire rings powerfully, especially when the protagonist, Robin Wright (Robin Wright), publicly condemns the Futurist Congress, accosting them for the ways they use their ‘chemistry.’
At other times, Folman’s satire falls flat, especially in the picture’s first forty-five minutes when the director’s primary focus is guilt-tripping Hollywood studios and producers, in an industry-fueled almost-rant that gets too insider-y to succeed with outside audiences.
Still, like the rest of The Congress, the first act doesn’t fail, partially thanks to secondary thematic relevance. Here a forty-four year old woman is repeatedly told she makes terrible choices (apparently because she cares for her children – well, one of them) – and that she is a relic, with an-about-to-end career anyway. The audience is left to consider these statements. Can we imagine people speaking thusly to middle-aged working moms? If so, what does that say about our cultural characteristics?
Robin Wright, the actor, helps save Folman’s first act, as well. Consider when her character is scanned in preparation for digital rendering. The scene is written poorly, no matter Harvey Keitel’s (the protagonist’s manipulative agent, Al) monologuing skill, so poorly, in fact, that it breaks Wright’s character. Yet, we cannot hate it, because the female leaddelivers a master-class example of shifting emotion, of joy turned to emptiness leading into despair. Her facial expressions are mesmerizing, even if the method by which they occur is terribly simplistic.
Wright’s voice acting throughout The Congress’ animated second half is just as good as her efforts in the live-action first half.
Jon Hamm’s (Dylan Truliner)work is less strong, not because he’s bad, but because he’s plain. When I realized which character he voices, I was left to wonder why Folman bothered casting a recognizable actor.
That Dylan, and most other secondary characters (save, perhaps, Al and Aaron – Kodi Smit-McPhee, sensational) are traitless doesn’t help either.
Neither do frequent and frenetic narrative leaps throughout The Congress’ animated portion. It’s a character centric satire, then a political thriller, then a science-fiction action adventure, then a romantic tragedy, then . . . Well, it’s hard to keep track. Thoughout this portion of the movie, it’s almost as if Folman doesn’t know which story he most wants to tell. So he includes everything about which he has a fleeting thought.
The Congress is, in other words, an uneven affair, as difficult to pigeon-hole in reflection as it is when viewed, a fact that makes it challenging to offer declarative conclusions.
So I will say this: if asked whether or not the film entertained me, I would say, ‘Not really.’
But if asked whether or not I thought it accomplishes its objectives, I would say, “More or less.’
Does that mean I’m recommending it? Good question.