When Ari Folman's follow-up to Waltz with Bashir arrived at Cannes last year, it created all kinds of worried buzz. Whereas the earlier film was acutely focused, The Congress mashes an array of different styles into a cluttered science-fiction miasma. It has already established a reputation as a folly in the style of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain or the Wachowski siblings' Cloud Atlas .
There's something to that. But The Congress has a wonderful madness all its own.
Adapted very loosely from a story by Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris , the picture concerns itself with a version of Robin Wright played by Robin Wright. Like the real person, the character has appeared in films such as The Princess Bride and State of Grace .
Unlike the real person, she has slipped into poverty and now lives in a grotty trailer by the airport. In the opening sequences, a stereotypically vulgar studio executive (played with big shoulders by Danny Huston) explains that the best option is to license her image for eternal digital exploitation in computer-generated movies. We are (ahem) virtually upon such technology, but what happens next pushes the film into full-on weirdness.
Twenty years later, Robin attends something called a Futurological Congress. As her car passes the security gate, she casts her eyes into the rear-view mirror to find an animated version of herself looking back. The world around her shifts in a similar freaky direction. The road becomes a rainbow. Fish leap from the desert.
Further synopsis is unnecessary (indeed, scarcely possible). What we have here is a juiced-up fantasy of a kind we've rarely seen since the 1970s. The story is slippery enough to emerge from Michael Moorcock's mind. The bold animation has more to do with Heavy Metal magazine than with Pixar.
Failing to make sense of it all is part of the fun. Of such follies are mighty cults made.