Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One-of-a-kind wonder: Ari Folman's live-action/ animated ROBIN WRIGHT AT THE CONGRESS

If Trust Me is the best of all the recent "insider" movies about Hollywood today, ROBIN WRIGHT AT THE CONGRESS is certainly the best of all movies about the "future" Hollywood. Of course there have not been a whole hell of a lot of the latter-themed films. In fact, I think this one may be the very first. Hollywood, as much as we love movies, is no rose of a place, so maybe this accounts for the reason why audiences don't much think about its future. (Its past, however, is often seen sentimentally through memory's rose-colored glasses.)

As directed and adapted by Ari Folman from a novel by Stanislaw Lem, the movie asks us to consider, among other things, what is real and what is fantasy and to try to differen-tiate not only between the two but between what is worthwhile and what it not. Mr. Folman (shown at right), who also gave us the somewhat over-praised Waltz With Bashir (this new movie is likely to be under-praised to about the same degree) has here given us one whopper of a tale that simply grows more so as it moves along.

Have you noticed of late that we are seeing commercials now using the likes of our most famous movie stars (Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe) doing and saying and mostly selling things they never would have done in their real life. The Congress takes off from this turn of events and posits that a well-known actress of today (Robin Wright, above, playing a version of the Robin Wright we have clearly come to know) is approached by a studio head and asked to sell the "rights" to her digital likeness, which will then be used in any way that the studio that has purchased those rights sees fit.

Should Ms Wright do this? The actress, long one of our more intelligent-seeming leading ladies, is here giving one of her finest performances. What she's done is quite daring -- allowing her image and reputation to be used in the manner that Folman does it. This makes the film seem all the more real -- until it explodes into a kind of anarchic burst of animation (below and further below) and ideas that we in the audience must pay absolute and close attention to in order to completely follow.

Suddenly the story involves everything from drugs and alternate universes to death and transfiguration. We're in an hallucinatory fantasy/sci-fi world that is indeed animated, and we stay there throughout the latter half of the movie, with only very quick trips into live-action from there onwards.

Folman's film takes what we already know and runs with it -- into areas which we might rather not consider. It builds upon what we've seen in other movies (Antiviral is probably the most recent of these) but then, thanks to Lem's unique vision, takes us down the rabbit hole and eventually out the other end.

The Congress is certainly challenging, but the payoff is immense, even if some of it may be beyond one's immediate ken. (You can think about this movie long after it has ended and maybe even solve some of its conundrums.)

In the large and starry cast are included a remarkably sweet and caring Harvey Keitel, two photos up, as Wright's longtime agent, Kodi Smit-McPhee as her sickly son, Sami Gayle as he daughter, the voice of Jon Hamm as her animation-world lover, Paul Giamatti (above, right) as a kindly doctor, and especially Danny Huston (below in the animated ver-sion), who gives an award-worthy performance as a Harvey Weinstein-like boss of a studio called Miramount. (Yes, we see mergers on the horizon.)

There probably won't be any more unusual film released this year, so I'd stick Robin Wright at The Congress -- from Drafthouse Films and running 117 minutes -- on your list now, to be seen theatrically or maybe even more magically, down the line on Blu-ray. The film will open theatrically this Friday, August 29, in Los Angeles (at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas) and eleven other cities, and the following Friday, September 5 in New York City (at the FSLC's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center) and fourteen other cities. To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters, click here and scroll down. 

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