The Israeli film maker Ari Folman shot into international prominence with the haunting Waltz With Bashir in 2008. Folman, who is one of the head writers on the hit TV show In Treatment, needed to revisit what he’d done as a teenager. As a young soldier he’d been part of the Israeli army’s appalling assault on Sabra and Shatila, when they invaded the Lebanon in 1982.
But the only way he’d been able to peer into the dark recesses of his psyche was by using the cloak of animation, which acted like the dark of the confessional box, allowing him close his eyes and re-imagine what might have happened there.
The Congress is his much awaited follow up. And it’s an almighty mess. Robin Wright plays a version of herself, who is forced to sell the rights to her digital self so that the studio can go on to make the kinds of films with “her” that they’d like to, without having to actually deal with the moods and tantrums of the actual human being.
But then the film veers wildly into wholly improbable sci fi territory, which it can only do by retreating into animation. And not just any old animation, the kind of far out animation that’s meant to make you fondly recall The Beatles in their Yellow Submarine.
I wish I could tell you that it were just too ambitious. But none of its Big Ideas are in any way explored, they are just bullet points in bold. Will CGI allow Hollywood studios dispense with Talent all together? What’s more important, success or your family? Will future generations be incapable of communicating other than through a screen? Is the digital realm this century’s heroin? Our only means of avoiding the drudgery and disappointment of our daily lives? Etc, and so on.
Worse again, it’s entirely humourless. Imagine what fun Woody Allen might have had with the idea of separating the actress from her digital self. Come to think of it, he did have that idea, in his criminally undervalued The Purple Rose Of Cairo.
The Congress is like that episode of the Simpsons when Homer is encouraged by his half brother to design his own car, which itself was a re-working of an old Johnny Cash song. If you take your favourite bits from every car you’ve ever seen and mould them all together, all you end up with is a dysfunctional eyesore.
Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel are two of modern cinema’s finest actors. Even more remarkably, both have managed that rare feat of navigating the treacherous waters between a large number of small, independent films, interspersed with the occasional more commercial enterprise. Happily, in ten years’ time, no one will remember that either of them had anything to do with this. You can see The Congress trailer here.
Sign up for a subscription right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Television and Music!