Cannes Review: Robin Wright gets animated in messy, sometimes mesmerizing 'The Congress'
CANNES - Most likely in sheer desperation at having to say anything at all about Colin Farrell dud "Dead Man Down," veteran critic David Thomson recently turned his review into a plea to Hollywood casting directors to make bolder, braver, weirder choices -- to throw gender and other demographic demarcations to the wind and let familiar screen stars become other people entirely. "We need to revolutionize casting," he wrote, "often enough to live up to our sense of ourselves: that we are not one fixed persona -- we contain multitudes."
One can only guess whether or not Thomson was aware of Ari Folman's bold, brave and distinctly weird new film "The Congress" when he wrote that piece, but it makes him look rather canny all the same. A loopy Hollywood satire that morphs, via a dramatic medium shift, into a poetic sci-fi fever dream, its premise represents the most literal interpretation possible of Thomson's words: an unhappy vision of what happens when actors, and eventually everyone else, are able to detach themselves entirely from their own persona, the multitudes we contain becoming parallel beings entirely.
If this sounds like an idea roughly cribbed from Stanislaw Lem, it is: Folman's script is a loose riff on the Polish philospher and speculative storyteller's 1971 comic novel "The Futurological Congress," a morbidly absurdist work set in a world where psychotropic hallucinations have supplanted reality or most of its inhabitants. It's heady, inscrutable material on its own, and stranger still when Lem's male protagonist Ijon Tichy is replaced by the actress Robin Wright -- not a character played by Robin Wright, you understand, but Robin Wright herself, here basking in the spotlight of the oddest fictional co-opting of a real-life movie star since "Being John Malkovich."
It's the most elaborate screen showcase the 47-year-old actress has had in her career, though it shows good humor on her part to be the emblem of a film that spends a good deal of screen time tell us just how over Robin Wright is. The opening scene finds the actress enduring a lambasting from her longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) on the "lousy choices, lousy movies and lousy men" (heh) that have precipitated her supposed career slump; shortly afterwards, "Miramount" studio boss Jeff (Danny Huston, effectively playing Harvey Weinstein with more capacity for hair oil) bemoans the latter-day creasing of Wright's "Princess Bride" visage.
Their proposed solution to the decline: scanning and perfecting the actress's image, allowing her to continue as an ageless, finely pixellated movie star while the original Wright enjoys a plush, premature retirement. Disgusted by the idea, she acquiesces for the sake of her son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee, presumably not interpreting Wright's own son Hopper), a bright kid facing the irrecoverable loss of his sight and hearing.