A movie that’s largely hallucination translated into film and animation, “The Congress” presents questions and observations in childlike, otherworldly ways. It’s a drama, it’s a cartoon, playful and sad, satirical and moving. All these things and a chaotic visual feast as well.
“The Congress” is about many things. It takes vicious aim at Hollywood and the movie business. It speculatively poses questions about science, technology and identity. But most of all, it’s a tale of a mother’s love.
Robin Wright stars as Robin Wright or, as the movie’s production notes state, a version of Robin Wright. Wright’s character is the actress born in Dallas in 1966, who starred in the 1987 hit “The Princess Bride,” appeared on the ’80s TV series “Santa Barbara” and co-starred as Tom Hanks’ love interest, Jenny, in the 1994 mega-hit, “Forrest Gump.”
In the alternate reality depicted in “The Congress,” Wright portrays herself at 44. In Hollywood, she’s past her prime, something Miramount Studios knows all too well. She has two children to support, including her youngest, a son named Aaron, whose progressive illness eventually will leave him blind.
Harvey Keitel co-stars as Al, Wright’s longtime agent. He takes an offer from Miramount to the client he genuinely loves. He tells Wright she should take the deal. It’s an offer unlike any that she has seen before.
In the digital age of moviemaking, Miramount proposes a onetime fee for the right to scan and digitalize the actress. Her face, body, expressions, emotions, everything that can possibly be captured will be preserved in a computer. And then Wright’s digital self will be used in any film, any genre that the studio deems fit.
The Wright character in “The Congress” is an actress with a troubled career. She made bad choices in movies and men, as Keitel bluntly tells her. She was difficult on the set. She walked out of productions. She didn’t close doors, she slammed them.
And now Miramount is making its final offer.
Danny Huston co-stars as Miramount Studios boss Jeff Green. Like Keitel’s Al, he’s a show business veteran who doesn’t soften his message. Green lays his studio’s deal out with a take it or leave it stance. Given the portrait of Wright as a difficult star already presented by her agent, Green’s curtness is understandable. Nonetheless, Green is the movie’s primary, impossible to sympathize with villain.
Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) co-stars as Wright’s ill son, Aaron. He’s a dreamy, brilliant boy; he loves flight, from kites to jets. There’s a heartbreaking innocence about him, too. Aaron is the human version of a sick puppy. The on-screen bond that he and his mother share pours forth in waves of tragedy.
Wright creates a haunting performance in this combination of live-action and animation helmed by Israeli director Ari Folman (“Waltz With Bashir”). The film is based on Ukrainian-born science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem’s novel about chemical dictatorship, “The Futurological Congress.”
The actress deserves, at least, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her touching work in “The Congress.” Her co-stars, including Jon Hamm as a desperately in love animator and Paul Giamatti as Aaron’s soulful doctor, likewise contribute poignant performances that transcend the movie’s unwieldy nature.
A story made from dreams and nightmares, vexing questions and choices and subterranean sadness, “The Congress” is difficult to shake.
REVIEWER’S RATING: 3 stars
STARRING: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny Huston, Jon Hamm, Paul Giamatti
DIRECTOR: Ari Folman
NOW SHOWING: Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Sept. 5-Sept. 10 at 9:30 p.m. (except Monday) and Sept. 12-Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
RUNNING TIME: 2 hr., 2 min.
MPAA RATING: Unrated.
Excellent (4 stars), Good (3 stars), Fair (2 stars), Poor (1 star)