Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ari Folman's new film "The Congress" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 29 - Sept 4

A highlight of this year's International Film Festival returns to SIFF Cinema for a weeklong run! An opening into it's labyrinth, "Ari Folman on The Genius of Stanisław Lem" acts as entry point into the complex resetting of Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress" and Folman's recontextualization of premise from the 70's work of Eastern Bloc science fiction into a modern day commentary on the shifting mediascape of entertainment and it's recourse on manufactured celebrity, identity and reality itself. Years after actress Robin Wright won a Golden Globe for her performance in David Fincher and Beau Willimon's "House of Cards,” her character Robin Wright in "The Congress" is at a career crossroads. Now struggling for roles while also caring for her two children as a single parent, she is offered a one-time singular deal; selling her digital likeness to the Studio System. Decades pass and her digital likeness, “Robin Wright” has become a global virtual celebrity. With the twenty year conclusion of her contract, her real-life paramour is invited to cross into the Restricted Animation Zone maintained and owned by the studio as a experimental new plain where the next evolution of their entertainment frontier meets experiential space. This kaleidoscopic, surrealistic future Hollywood-come-amusement-park is the frontier where one's avatar is able to generate not only their own representation, but mold the aspects of this very world being sold. When the studio attempts to utilize her in it's campaign to launch this new reality platform as a lifestyle choice beyond it's entertainment potential as a VR, the cracks in the facade begin to appear. Revolution from within the Restricted Animated Zone arise and in the midst of the melee, the animator of her own virtual self becomes her friend and guide through this psycho-Orwellian otherworld.

The film's head-on tackling of corporate Studio System ownership of image, manufactured identity and the virtual landscape many of us will (and do) spend our time, inspired IndieWire's Eric Kohn to posit, "Is Ari Folman's 'The Congress' The Most Anti-Hollywood Movie Ever Made?". Convoluted and substantially ideas-rich Folman's direction pushes the audience forward into projected extrapolations on the nature of self-worth, identity, endeavor and the corporate ownership of not only the landscape in which we spend out virtual time, but the 'narratives' of our lives themselves. The mutable, shifting self-generated nature of the psychoscape, somewhere between wakingness and death, a future-state of being A.O. Scott equates with, "In the Future, Life Could Be a Dream". Yet Folman's ability to future-project the endgame of corporate ownership of time and virtual space is as visionary as it is sometimes flawed. Citing it's ambitious, occasional over-reach was Xan Brooks review for The Guardian, "Ari Folman Mixes Live Action with Animation in an Eccentric and Ambitious Sci-Fi Drama". Being as philosophically questing as the work is has it's drawbacks; it would require a film of greater length and exposition to be able to represent all the facades of this multi-plain metascape and it's mirror back in the 'truth' of material reality. Folman forgoes much of this to instead tell one's woman's tale in reclaiming her life, her image and literally her 'self' from the new world's commodification of liberty. For all it's faults, including some truly terrible stilted acting, (Harvey Keitel is particularly egregious) "The Congress" makes for a more inventive future cautionary tale of life, identity, technology and society than (just about) anything we've seen since the birth of the Cyberpunk era of the 1990's. Yet it remains a conflicting experience; one which features astounding degrees of technical execution and conceptual aspiration, which are gravitationally drawn back down to Earth, prevented the heights they may have ascended by the film's less fully formed storytelling coherence. The exceptional score by neoclassical and electronic composer Max Richter also going some way to tip the scales in favor of it's strengths.