Sunday, November 17, 2013

Independence Spotlight: The Congress (2013)

Continuing my time at the Giraf festival I went to see the latest film by director Ari Folman.  It’s beautiful, thought provoking, and the first in the category I’ve lovingly decided to call “what on Earth did I just watch?”

That last question really is directed at the last half of the film, because I thought the first part made sense and was well executed.  We are introduced to Robin Wright who is struggling to find work as an actress because she is 44 and considered too old now to play leading roles in films anymore like she did in her younger years.  The film draws attention to the fact that in Hollywood once you’re past 35 you aren’t considered prime material anymore for the most part.  I think the only people who might have shorter career shelf lives are professional athletes.  Robin is given what they say is her last chance by being downloaded as a digital actress and owned by Miramount.   I love the Miramount name by the way and that their film gates are the old Paramount studio gates.  There is some talk about the fast pace at which movie making changes and how that overturns a lot of people’s careers, and the convoluted mess that is studio politics and contracts.  I love the way this whole first part is shot too because the camera remains very still only shaking when Robin is running out to get Aaron’s kite back over the airport fence.  The scene of Robin in the dome is wonderfully shot and emotionally gripping as, her agent says, she gives her final performance.              

Then we get into the animated part where Robin goes to the congress and things start going downhill.  Also the trailers lie like hell for this film.  The whole thing of Robin being digitized and the studio literally owning her pretty much becomes irrelevant at the half way mark.  She being animated has nothing to do with that other than being a renewal of the original contract, and that has nothing to do with her remaining on the other side as it’s called.  The animation itself is very good though.  Colours are vivid there’s some really nice angles in lots of shots, and the designs are great. Also the music is good too in the film.  'Forever Young' is a great song although I question its placement in the film.  Staying young is obviously a focus of the film, but I have no idea why the song is been used during a sex scene.

That’s I think what bugs me about the second half is that it seems very disconnected from the things set up in the live action part.  It’s established that Robin has made bad choices, without saying what those choices are (besides giving her last performance in a dome), that she is supportive of her son and is dealing with being out of her golden years as an actress.  But then the animated world doesn’t follow up on that really.  Yes she is trying to find Aaron after she wakes up from the cryo-sleep, but all that has nothing to do with her being an actress or being older.  And I really don’t get the animator love interest she has during that animated sequence.   The one thing with the animated scenes that does follow through from the early live action set up is how the movie landscape changed once again.  Now you don’t have to watch a screen to see a character you wish you could be.  Now you can literally become that character in your own mind.  It is total escapism.   You don’t interact with the real world at all anymore when on those drugs.  Your fantasies are real in the sense that you can be anyone and do anything.  Again these are elements movies use and I’d argue more frequently in recent decades than in the early use of the medium.  That works, but I think it’s disconnected from Robin’s story of trying to find Aaron.

The final problem I have with the film then is the ending.  There are a lot of things that don’t make sense and honestly I’m not sure if the film is just that deep and I’m missing something, or if it really doesn’t explain anything and not having an internal logic is a bad thing or not. For example if Robin was dealing with some kind of hallucinogenic poisoning as a result of being at the congress then why is she still animated when they’re freezing her, and when she wakes up?  Also if Robin can be frozen for twenty years to cure her, why wasn’t Aaron frozen until a cure was found for him?  What the heck happened to Robin’s other kid Sarah?  She goes from thinking technology is great to being one of the rebels fighting against Miramount, that makes sense since views often change for people as they get older.  But then she is somehow a naturalist in the world that you only get into by taking the drugs and is somehow able to bring children into a world that doesn’t actually exist and when she should be in her fifties and therefore out of her childbearing years.  I don’t get it.  I don’t get all the kite symbolism in this movie and I really don’t get the ending as Robin takes the drug when she knows Aaron has crossed over and goes back to the other side.  I think it’s about her being reborn, making different choices, and finding Aaron that way maybe, but I’m not sure and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be sure or not.   

So despite the fact that I keep questioning things here that I don’t think I’m supposed to be questioning I still really enjoyed this movie.  It is visually stunning in its animation and the live action work is great too.  It’s got some good commentary in the first part about Hollywood practices including aging actors, studio systems, and the rapidly changing ways movies are made.  The acting is great, the music is good, and on some level I think it’s provocative.  I would definitely recommend people go see it, I believe it is scheduled for a wider release in the summer of next year, and maybe if more people see it we can get some audience consensus about what, if anything, we should take away from this film.

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