Robin Wright has been the go to actress when it comes to casting a seductive yet congenial female supporting role. She’s been working diligently in the industry for decades appearing in many Hollywood classics such as Forrest Gump, playing Forrest’s first real love Jenny and more recently catching her big break in the critically acclaimed House of Cards, portraying the fictional first lady Claire Underwood. Yet audiences still aren’t as aware of her catalogue of films in comparison to the likes of merited Cameron Diaz, Angelina Jolie and other famed newcomers like Jennifer Lawrence. Yet in The Congress she takes the lead as the protagonist in director Ari Folman’s latest celestial installment.
The Congress is an adaption of the 1971 dark-humoured, abrasive science fiction novel- The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem, adapted onto the screen by Folman himself. In this version the writer-director has divided audiences and critics alike through the use of live-action for the first 40 minutes of the film and then bravely interjects the spectator’s viewing experience with animation; utilised in the his earlier Oscar nominated film Waltz with Bashir. The visual and aural landscape could on all accounts have been a collaborative art piece curated by Jodorowsky and Pink Floyd that produces a sensory overload; integrating a colour scheme only to be described as a kaleidoscopic palate, it transports the viewer into an ethereal alternative reality, where the first act of the film almost becomes a hazy psychedelic memory.
Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, a caricature of herself in the film. But importantly an actress who has lost all creative empowerment to the Hollywood Studio oligarchy; along with her aged and jaded agent credited only as Al, played by Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant, Reservoir Dogs). The recent lack of success in her career as brought about a slump in her career, leading her to a board meeting at cleverly named ‘Miramount’ (a sarcastic little dig to the often demonised real life studios Miramax and Paramount); one would only presume. Where tyrannical studio executive credited simply as Jeff– portrayed by the often overlooked actor Danny Huston (Birth, Hitchcock); introduces Robin and Al to the new influx of technology that has replaced all major leading actors and actresses with eerie carbon copies that possess all of the same emotional range of the aging stars, and the matching ability to emote and express themselves but all through a hollowed out vessel that looks identical to the real Robin Wright and Tom Cruise (who appears in little vignettes throughout the film) although seemingly without his permission. Jeff explains that this new technology will bring about an influx of roles that will reinvigorate her career, as well as a promise that she’ll be a decade younger, all if she accepts one last contract written out for her. Enabling the studio to do exactly what they want with the Hollywood persona Robin Wright, and use her in whatever pap they want to, affectively writing off any of her creative consent.
The film clearly satirises the current Hollywood studio system that has often been said to churn out blockbuster after blockbuster and put a greater emphasis on Box Office receipts and larger than life budgets, than it is reputed to produce movies with substance throughout the year. This critique that runs throughout the film can be read as an admission statement from Ari Folman himself, who is a filmmaker with an astonishing vision and a maverick ambition to make original material with substance, the film has much to admire, certainly some fine- nuanced performances from the likes of Jon Hamm, Paul Giamatti and youngster Kody Smit-McPhee. It is most definitely a film that can encourage and inspire younger talent to produce more adventurous work, but may benefit from a several minute cut towards the last sequence given it’s total running time may run longer than some viewer’s attention spans.