REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘The Congress’ Gives Cannes Both “Woah” & Woe

The CongressLast year Holy Motors swept the Croisette with its blend of bizarre absurdity and absolute cinematic originality. Looking in advance at this year’s competition selection, there’s little that holds a candle, but I surmised from its trailer last week that Ari Folman’s The Congress, playing in the Directors Fortnight bracket, bares a striking similarity to Leos Carax’s crazed escapade.

The first handful of tweets coming in for the film seem to have confirmed my suspicions.

@guylodge: THE CONGRESS is, like Mya’s love, like whoa. Dippy showbiz satire on Being Robin Wright works better than trippy Bakshi-Lem fever dream.
@ZeitchikLAT: [about] as audacious as Cannes movies get. Which is saying something.

The CongressSounds like an exciting prospect at first glance, but full reviews reveal the as possibly being on the messier side of things. Jessica Kiang at The Playlist thinks the film dives out of coherence when it heads into animation.

It really is a difficult film to categorize because while there is an exuberance to it and a love of film on display (“Dr. Strangelove” gets a direct reference, but there are many more subtle cues within), it poses the old question of whether the immense ambition of the project should be admired over the fact that it falls down on so many of those ambitions. We’re going to err a little on the former side because as messy and convoluted, as overwritten and overstuffed and overcooked as the whole thing is, it’s certainly unique and displays more boldness and giddiness than we expect to see from any other film in Cannes. It’s just a shame that it has fully as many (unexplored) plot-lines and themes and ideas as the entire rest of the slate combined, too.

Peter Debruge of Variety worries that Folman loses some of the critical insight that made Waltz with Bachir such an acclaimed hit.

Apart from its general knock against ageism in Hollywood, “The Congress” doesn’t have much insight to offer on the subject. Meanwhile, somewhere in his adaptation, Folman lost the thread that connects this speculative-fiction allegory to our world. Maybe the film is ahead of its time, though it already feels dated: Such digital scanning of actors is already taking place, and if it bothers Folman so much, why not give Wright a greater chance to act, instead of choosing mediocre animation as a means to criticize the industry’s shift away from flesh-and-blood performance?

Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter sums up the mood of latter half disappointment, worrying that the more resonant themes are lost in the film’s trippier diversions.

Abandoning the “cut-out” style that was so striking in Waltz With Bashir, Folman here harks back to earlier, more traditional animation forms that perhaps aspire to the 1930s Fleischer model but, in the event, more closely resemble the psychedelic aspects of “Yellow Submarine” and the work of Richard Williams. Plants and flowers grow out of buildings, shapes flow and morph from one configuration to another, none of it particularly attractive or enchanting.  The themes and concerns that set the film’s agenda early on are still present but recede, just as Robin’s kids take a back seat to the undynamic character of the animator (Jon Hamm) who has been assigned to “Robin” for two decades and has, of course, fallen in love with her.

So while this should very well inspire passion in some, the reactions of many could be rather stalled for Ari Folman’s The Congress. It remains an intriguing and undeniable fixture on the cinematic horizon.

PREVIOUS REVIEW ROUND-UPS:
Heli (Dir. Amat Escalante)
Young & Beautiful (Dir. Francois Ozon) and The Bling Ring (Dir. Sofia Coppola)

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