Five years after Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman’s follow-up The Congress blends animation and live-action for a film that starts out as a Hollywood satire before expanding its horizons for something decidedly more ambitious.
Robin Wright (starring as herself) has turned down roles, she spent too much time with her family and there are no roles for an actress her age. She’s offered one last chance: The studio will capture her likeness, her essence, that they can replicate for any performance but she can never act again. When the time to renew her contract 20 years later, the world has become a very different place.
The Congress is a film of two halves. The first is live-action, as Robin’s career and choices are brutally dissected and criticised. The second half is almost entirely animated, set in a future in which people can project themselves as the Robert Crumb-esque caricatures they aspire to.
The first half is decidedly superior. It’s moving while remaining open about its manipulation. In The Congress’ best sequence, Robin’s agent (Harvey Keitel) declares that he knows how to get a good performance out of her and does so, moving her, and us, to tears, but we know that we are being manipulated as much as she is.
The second half takes some getting used to. The Ralph Bakshi-style animation is a bit of a jolt, especially given how strongly we connected with the live-action Robin. Given how slyly the first half comments on Hollywood’s tropes and treatment of its stars, the gross excesses of the future feel too on the nose.
However, Folman manages to find a way to make the animated world connect with the audience and the final act is really quite powerful.
The Congress suffers from the occasional stumble but it’s a highly intelligent and hugely moving film that comments on the industry’s treatment of actresses and how the image perfection it places such importance on affects its target audience. The cast, including Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti and Jon Hamm are excellent but there’s only one star here.
Wright is absolutely stunning and this is quite possibly the performance of her career.