First Reviews of Folman’s ‘The Congress’ Are In!

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Oscar-nominated director Ari Folman’s new pic The Congress opens the 45th Director’s Fortnight sidebar during the Cannes Film Festival on May 16.

The sci-fi movie mixes live-action with animation and stars Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston and Frances Fisher. The much-anticipated feature by the gifted Israeli director is based on The Futurological Congress by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, who also wrote the famous sci-fi book Solaris. The plot follows the story of an aging actress (Robin Wright), who agrees to having herself scanned and turned into a digital actress for the sake of a single last, large payment to support her disabled son. The studio (which is cleverly called Miramount) can use her digital image in any way they see fit, and she is forever banned from acting again. Of course, she doesn’t quite realize how extensive the ramifications of her actions are.

Here are some of the early reviews of the film, which doesn’t have a U.S. distributor yet.

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter writes:

“Ambition markedly outstrips achievement in The Congress, a visionary piece of speculative fiction that drops the ball after a fine set-up. Director Ari Folman follows his breakthrough 2008 feature Waltz With Bashir with a different style of animation applied not to a historical war story but to a look at an alternative future based on transfigured real people. Initial viewer curiosity gives way to impatience and finally ennui in the film’s second half, spelling lukewarm commercial prospects for this commendable but shortfalling…”

“Abandoning the ‘cut-out’ style that was so striking in Waltz With Bashir, Folman here harks back to earlier, more traditional animation forms that perhaps aspire to the 1930s Fleischer model but, in the event, more closely resemble the psychedelic aspects of Yellow Submarine and the work of Richard Williams. Plants and flowers grow out of buildings, shapes flow and morph from one configuration to another, none of it particularly attractive or enchanting. The themes and concerns that set the film’s agenda early on are still present but recede, just as Robin’s kids take a back seat to the undynamic character of the animator (Jon Hamm) who has been assigned to Robin for two decades and has, of course, fallen in love with her.”

Pete Debruge of Variety opines:

“Conceptually speaking, such a satire could only work as animation, but even then, it doesn’t quite come together Admirers of director Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir should seriously adjust their expectations. For this [animated] portion, Folman ditches the cutout style of Bashir (or the obvious-fit approach of Asian anime) for a loonier toon look, resembling a cross between Fleischer Studios’ Betty Boop shorts and the drug-addled aesthetic of Ralph Bakshi (Cool World).”

“The style of this environment is lively enough, opening with a delightful bit of Yellow Submarine-worthy surrealism, though the rules are virtually impossible to follow. Beyond the recurring symbol of her son’s red kite, there’s little to connect Wright to this hallucinogenic animated space where disgruntled citizens are free to pass as the persona of their choice, be it Marilyn or Magritte, Grace Jones or Jesus.”

Dan Fainaru of World Screen puts it this way:

“Wright, in a role that must have been almost too close for comfort, being so similar to her own life, comes through with flying colors, confidently carrying all the live action sequences on her shoulders. No longer committed to reality, as it was in Bashir, the animation takes flight on its own, with Folman’s old conspirators, production designer David Polonsky and animation director Yoni Goodman, creating a rich imaginary world of their own, once again working with the help of sound designer Aviv Aldema and composer Max Richter…. Lacking Bashir’s political angle, which helped it enormously, Folman’s wild journey through hallucinogenic space is more a reflection on human conditions than a dramatic tale.”

The Congress

The Congress