Cannes: Folman’s “The Congress” Is a Sci-Fi Movie About the Movies

Posted by Eugene Hernandez on 5.17.2013

Director Ari Folman may have lost the Oscar for his film Waltz with Bashir four years ago but in the process he won the star of his next film, The Congress, which debuted here in Cannes this week. The Israeli filmmaker met Robin Wright on the awards season circuit in Los Angeles back in 2009 and the two quickly hit it off.

Back in Israel, Folman's animation team swiftly sent him a few sketches of Robin Wright ahead of his meeting with the actress. She was wowed and signed on immediately for Folman's next film, an ambitious adaptation of Stanisław Lem's The Futurological Congress that mixes live action and hand drawn animation.

"I will go with you wherever you take me," the filmmaker said Wright told him. Ari Folman, who said this week that sci-fi is his favorite film genre, takes her character to interesting places in The Congress.

Folman's complex and captivating new movie, a futuristic story about a fictitious actress named "Robin Wright" who opts to save her career by having herself digitally scanned to preserve herself forever, played well here when it opened the Directors' Fortnight section of Cannes 2013. It's a film that's full of ideas—one that's not so easy to summarize here—and as a result it has provoked divergent responses from early audiences. There's little disagreement, however, that it's one of the more original visions to unfold on screen in the early days of the 66th Cannes Film Festival.

The Congress depicts an all-consuming Hollywood in which actors wholly hand themselves over to the studios. In a new star system, actors receive a massive paycheck to leave their public life behind and live privately. Only their screen image remains and it is fully controlled by a studio that can manipulate the actor on screen to serve their wishes.

The fate of cinema, in fact the future of humanity itself, is portrayed quite bleakly in Folman's take on Lem's work.

Yet, The Congress is also a film in the tradition of other movies about the movies—think Singing in the Rain or Sunset Boulevard—that feature actors and the industry at odds with dramatic changes in Hollywood, namely the shift from silent to talking pictures.

The Congress begins as a live action film in the present, but after about 45 minutes, events jump 20 years into the future and it becomes an animated movie with a style that evokes early Max Fleischer cartoons (Betty Boop, Popeye). Taken as a whole, The Congress could be viewed as a mash-up of an array of movies, from Being John Malkovich and Holy Motors to Pink Floyd's The Wall.

A number of familiar faces populate the the animated fantasy world inhabited by an aging Rob Wright. Jesus has a few cameos, as do characters that look a lot like present-day Hollywood stars.

During a brief Q&A following the film's first screening here this week, Ari Folman owned up to the fact that Jesus Christ appears in his new movie, but he said that guy who looks like Maverick from Top Gun isn't necessarily who we think it is.

"Did you see Tom Cruise in the movie?" Folman quipped slyly.

For more FilmLinc Daily coverage of the 66th Cannes Film Festival, click here.

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