Robin Wright” in “The Congress”.

Harvey Keitel and Robin Wright in The Congress.

Har­vey Kei­t­el and Robin Wright in The Con­gress.

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 was 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.

Robin Wright as Buttercup with Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.

Robin Wright as But­ter­cup with Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.

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.

Woody Allen's much funnier The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

Woody Allen’s much fun­nier 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 the best bits from your favourite films (or cars) 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.

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