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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews The Congress

August 13th, 2014 by Conor ONeill Comments

The Congress (12a)
Directed by: Ari Folman
Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel & Jon Hamm
Running time: 122 min

Commandment number three: Thou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. But Cheeses Crisis, surely there’s a footnote in scripture forgiving the God-fearing from delivering at least a whisper of disbelief reserved for watching this two hour epic! This picture simply astounds… on so many levels.

Based on the novel The Futurological Congress by sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem and directed by Israeli Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir) this, his second full-length feature, reveals not an ounce of a lack of ambition, possible seances with Alastair Crowley, Lenny Bruce and Walt Disney, and perhaps experimentation with some sort of meteor based hallucinogenic not yet unleashed onto the rest of us mere mortals. I’m sure that last sentence left you out of breath. Well, so will this film.

The plots and/or messages packed into the running time are as varied as some of them are just a little over complicated, but the general gist is this: a washed-up actor, Robin Wright (Forest Gump’s Jenny, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), mercifully playing herself, is offered the chance of redemption if she decides to have her image digitised if she promises never to act again. Not even in am-dram, school plays or Eastenders. With two kids to look after and Al her manager, as usual brilliantly portrayed by Harvey Keitel and scheming ‘Miramount’ Studio – nice touch there writers – boss urging her against her wishes, Wright finally takes the bait.

And here we have arguably the best scene of the picture as the digitalisation process sees Keitel at his all engrossing best and Wright acts, hell I’m not even sure this can be called acting it’s so emphatic, her heart out. You have to see this scene, hopefully on the big screen, to admire it.

Skip forth a couple of decades and a snort of ether later and we’re drawn through the looking glass and down through the rabbit hole. I can only compare this part of the movie, and it does take up quite a chunk of the two hours, to 2010’s Howl animation scenes, though the animation is more Betty Boo 1920s-type art nouveau than the spidery sketching of Epstein and Friedman’s piece of cinematic history. Unfortunately as we get caught up in Folman’s make believe world, the plot and its many strands do get a little convoluted and hard to keep track of. The blurb for the pic states: ‘The Congress is often bold, bewildering and always dazzling’ and I find it hard to disagree with all of the above and have to put special emphasis on the ‘bewildering’.

Through the eyes of Wright we’re introduced to the world of Abrahama, a world full of every important and not so important figure since Eve munched on that forsaken apple. Tom Cruise, Muhammad Ali, Queen Elizabeth the first, Michael Jackson serving up lobster, Jeff Buckley, Elvis, and many more. Why? Well, there appears to be no apparent reason. Jon Hamm’s (Howl, Mad Men) tones makes an appearance as Dylan Truliner in the animation scenes for what appears to be a guide through this strange land and to make history in what can only be the trippiest copulation scene ever to make it to the big screen.

Overall, I’m unsure on first viewing whether or not the flick has a plot or message. No doubt intellectuals will argue its merits as an insider’s view on Hollywood or it decimation of true human spirit at the mercy of computerisation. There is undoubtedly an Orwellian 1984 feel to this piece. All I know is that aesthetically this is one hell of a movie to the eye and a bit of a head-scratcher to the mind.

Dare, dare, last one to the lamppost has to watch this film.

4 out of 5 Nerds

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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.