Wednesday, September 03, 2014
"The Congress": Robin Wright is expected to become the object of upward affiliation in a fantasy world
“The Congress” is an ambitious film, shot in many countries, with some high concepts reminding one of masterpieces like “Inception” with a bit of “The Matrix” mixed in. The resorting to animation for the last two of three sections of the story probably isn’t as effective as one would hope.
The film is directed by Ari Folman (Israel) and is based on the novel “The Futurological Congress” by Stanislaw Lem (review).
It starts like a sassy art film. Robin Wright plays a middle-aged actress getting a reputation of being to work with. The pretext is a little hard to believe in a world where movie studios no longer own actors. Miramount (a portmanteau of “Miramax” and “Paramount”, and perhaps Marymount University!) offers Robin (playing herself) a deal: it will shoot images of her digitally and use her avatar as it wants in films for the indefinite future. She will retire with her disabled son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in luxury, never to be heard from again. A scene near the opening shows Aaron getting arrested for flying an unusual red kite near the runways of LAX. Aaron is going deaf and blind from some unspecified genetic disease.
The concept is interesting: in tort law, it’s known as “right of publicity”.
The end of the first part of the film shows the digital photograph session, which is impressive. I thought about a scene in “The Andromeda Strain” where a man is depilated by a photoflash, before undergoing “body analysis”. (Fortunately, Robin is female.) But here the film shits to 20 years later, where an elderly Robin approaches the Miramount hotel in the Mojave Desert in a sports car. Once she’s admitted, she moves into a 2-D world of animation, as she attends the Futurological Congress.
Now, the establishment wants to use her life avatar as a substitute identity for customers. Imagine if I, at 71, could wake up in the body of a 19-year-old. Or wake up in someone else’s body, whom I had “desired”. It sounds like the ultimate trip of upward affiliation.
All this comes to a crisis, which leads to her being cyber-frozen, which takes up to Part 3. She is awakened, in a 1980s environment, with the opportunity to look for her son. But soon she learns that most people are living in a kind of artificial reality, a kind of Second Life on steroids. “Real life”, above ground, has become dirty and dystopian.
The official site is here. The film is distributed by Cinedigm and Drafthouse Films. The film is available on Amazon now (where I rented it) and YouTube (both for $6.99), but I recommend seeing it in a theater if possible. It is at the West End Cinema in Washington DC and will soon show at the Alamo Drafthouse in Loudoun County, VA. It’s good to see that upscale chain (serving food in the auditorium) showing some independent films. This film used production resources in Israel, France, Poland, Luxembourg, Germany, the UK, India, and the US.