The Congress (2013 film)
French promotional poster
|Directed by||Ari Folman|
|Produced by||Diana Elbaum
|Screenplay by||Ari Folman|
|Based on||The Futurological Congress
by Stanisław Lem
|Music by||Max Richter|
|Edited by||Nili Feller|
|Distributed by||ARP Sélection (France)
Drafthouse Films (US)
|Budget||€8 million|
The Congress (Hebrew: כנס העתידנים) is a 2013 French-Israeli live-action/animation science fiction drama film written and directed by Ari Folman, based on Stanisław Lem's novel The Futurological Congress. The film premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on 15 May 2013. Independent film distributor Drafthouse Films announced, along with Films We Like In Toronto, their co-acquisition of the North American rights to the film and a US theatrical and VOD/digital release planned for 2014.
Robin Wright plays a fictional version of herself, an aging actress with a reputation for being fickle and unreliable, so much so that nobody is willing to offer her roles. Her son, Aaron, suffers from Usher syndrome that is slowly destroying his sight and hearing. With the help of Dr. Barker (Paul Giamatti), Robin is barely able to stave off the worst effects of her son's decline. Robin agrees to sell the film rights to her digital image to Miramount Studios (a portmanteau of Miramax and Paramount) in exchange for a hefty sum of money and the promise to never act again. After her body is digitally scanned, the studio will be able to make films starring her, using only computer-generated characters.
Twenty years later, as her contract is about to expire, Robin travels to Abrahama City where she will speak at Miramount's "Futurological Congress" and also renew her contract. By then, Robin's digital likeness has become the star of a popular science-fiction film franchise, "Rebel Robot Robin". Abrahama City is an animated zone, where individuals use chemicals to become animated avatars of themselves, entering a mutable illusory state, they can become anything they want to be. While discussing the new contract with Miramount, Robin learns that the studio has developed a new technology that will allow anyone to transform themselves into her.
Robin agrees to the deal but has a crisis of conscience and does not believe she or anyone else should be turned into a product. Asked to speak at the Congress, Robin publicly voices her views, enraging the hosts of the Congress. Shortly afterwards, the Congress is attacked by rebels ideologically opposed to the technology. During the attack, Robin is protected by Dylan Truliner (Jon Hamm) but is soon captured by "Miramount Police". Still in the animated world, Robin is executed; without coming out of the animated world, Robin is shown on a hospital bed, while doctors, also animated, discuss her case. One of the doctors reveals that when Robin was found, she pleaded with her rescuers to execute her. The doctors decide that Robin is so ill that she must be frozen until a time when a treatment for her mental illness is found.
Many years later, still animated, Robin is revived and reunites with Dylan, who guides Robin to a new animated world in which anything is possible and the ego no longer exists. Dylan reveals that he had once been Miramount's lead animator and had used her digital likeness to make movies for Miramount. The two fall in love, but Robin is still desperate to return to the real world and be with her son. The only way to do that is using a capsule that Dylan was given by Miramount, his reward for twenty years of service. The capsule is only powerful enough for one person and Dylan has no more. Dylan gives it to Robin, begging her not to look at the real him when she returns to the real world.
Re-entering the un-animated real world, Robin finds it in extreme disrepair and the inhabitants severely dysfunctional. Those who are still able to cope in the real world hover over its ruined cities in large airships. On one of the ships, Robin finds Doctor Barker, who reveals the state of the world in which most people have changed to an existence in an animated, unreal world. Hoping to find Aaron, Robin's hopes are dashed when Barker reveals that Aaron "crossed over" into the animated world only six months earlier, when his condition had left him virtually blind and deaf. Because Aaron likely created a new identity for himself in the animated world, there is no way for anyone to find him. While Robin can return to an animated existence, she cannot return to the one she left behind, including Dylan, because that world was not real but created by her consciousness.
Dr. Barker gives Robin an inhalation ampule that will allow her to return to the animated world. Taking it, Robin experiences memories of her son's life, being born, seeing his mother for the first time, as an infant watching his mother act, as an older child being taken to Dr. Barker, as a young adult watching his mother leave for The Congress, finding his mother in suspended animation, and finally taking the capsule that will take him away from the real world forever. The story ends with an animated Robin, having the same appearance as Aaron, discovering Aaron in the middle of an animated desert; it is left for the viewer to decide if the reunion is real or a dream.
- Robin Wright as Robin Wright
- Paul Giamatti as Dr. Barker
- Jon Hamm as Dylan Truliner (voice) 
- Danny Huston as Jeff Green
- Harvey Keitel as Al
- Kodi Smit-McPhee as Aaron Wright
- Sami Gayle as Sarah Wright
Relation to The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem
While some elements of the film were added by Ari Folman, others were based on the science fiction novel The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem. Similarly to Lem's Ijon Tichy, the actress is split between delusional and real mental states. In an early interview about the film, Folman said,
"There is certainly nothing based on Lem in the first part of the movie. The second part is definitely different, but I used Lem's The Futurological Congress more as a source of inspiration, rather than the basis of the screenplay."
Later, at the official website of the film, in an interview, Folman says that the idea to put Lem's work to film came to him during his film school. He describes how he reconsidered Lem's allegory of communist dictatorship into a more current setting, namely, the dictatorship in the entertainment industry, and expresses his belief that he preserved the spirit of the book despite going far away from it.
A Franco-German-Belgian-Polish international co-production, the animation was created by Bridgit Folman Films Gang, based in Israel, supervising 6 animation studios worldwide ("studio 352" in Luxemburg, "walking the dog" in Belgium, "bitteschoen" in Berlin, "studio Rakete" in Hamburg, "Studio Orange" in Poland and "Snipple" in the Philippines). As in Waltz with Bashir, Folman worked with David Polonsky as the artistic director and Yoni Goodman as the animation director. Principal live action filming was done in the United States and Germany from February to March 2011. Folman began working on the film in 2008, securing additional financing in 2011 from French bank Coficine-Natixis. The film was completed and released in 2013.
The Congress received positive reviews, currently holding a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 94 critics; the consensus states: "The Congress rises on the strength of Robin Wright's powerful performance, with enough ambitious storytelling and technical thrills to overcome its somewhat messy structure." On Metacritic, the film has an 63/100 rating based on 31 critics, signifying "generally favorable reviews".
- "THE CONGRESS (15)". StudioCanal. British Board of Film Classification. 23 April 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Richford, Rhonda (19 April 2013). "Cannes: Ari Folman’s 'The Congress' to Open Directors' Fortnight". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- Husney, Evan (6 May 2013). "Drafthouse Films Journeys to 'The Congress'". Drafthouse Films. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- Heron, Ambrose (17 May 2011). "First footage from Ari Folman’s The Congress". FILMdetail. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
- Ari Folman on the Genius of Stanislaw Lem – interview (March 2011)
- "The Congress, a Film by Ari Folman" (retrieved 27 August 2014)
- "The Congress". 'Robin Wright' – a fan site. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
- Fischer, Russ (23 December 2011). "‘The Congress,’ From ‘Waltz With Bashir’ Director, Will Be Roughly 60% Live-Action, 40% Animated". /Film. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
- Hopewell, John (7 September 2011). "Ari Folman's 'The Congress' rounds up coin". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
- "The Congress". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- "The Congress Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- "Winners 2013". European Film Awards. European Film Academy. Retrieved 9 December 2013.