At long last, Ari Folman’s “The Congress,” the Israeli auteur’s half-animated followup to his fully animated “Waltz with Bashir” (2008), is available to stream. This electrifying fantasy about an actress (Robin Wright) who sells her soul to the studio system offers plenty of visual derring-do and optimism about the future of cinema — despite being very anti-Hollywood.
And it makes you wonder why distributors were so perplexed by this ground-shattering film since it bowed at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2013. Thankfully, the intrepid Drafthouse Films saved the day and brought “The Congress” to VOD, and will take it to theaters in NY/LA in September.
But more about the film, an absolute must-see that has midnight-movie potential all over it: Robin Wright plays a not-too-distant version of herself, a washed-out, middling actress inveigled by her agent (Harvey Keitel) to hand over her likeness to an imperious Harvey Weinstein-type (Danny Huston). Her mind, body, soul and all her idiosyncrasies and flaws will be digitally scanned and preserved for all eternity in a computer to be recast and reused ad infinitum in whatever box office-seizing schlock the studio, Miramount (a thinly veiled portmanteau that’s cheekily on-the-nose), wants to produce. The caveat? Robin — the real, flesh-and-blood human Robin — can never act again.
Still here? Things get even weirder when the film flashes about 20 years forward, when Robin is asked to speak at The Futurological Congress (the title of the Stanislaw Lem story that inspired the film), a remote convention where all participants consume a drink that turns them, and their world, into an archly animated frenzy. In this environment, moviegoers and content-seekers are no longer mere eyeballs — they’re drug addicts.
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Costarring Jon Hamm and Paul Giamatti, the film then deep dives into a beautifully gloomy rabbit hole of animated grandiosity of the likes of Mark Ryden or Hieronymus Bosch on a double-dose of LSD. Absolutely one of the best films of this year, “The Congress” opens up the possibilities of filmmaking — and in doing so, is as pro-cinema as it is anti-Hollywood.
Read our 2013 interview with Folman here, who talks the film’s troubled development, and its soaring ambitions. Head to VOD platforms to watch the films.