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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Congress


Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, John Hamm and Kodi Smit-McPhee
Distributor: StudioCanal
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 08 December 2014

Robin Wright is an aging actress, whose promise was never fulfilled because of her own fears and now no one is offering her roles. She is approached by Miramount with a novel opportunity, if she agrees to sell them her physical likeness and never act again; they will pay her a considerable sum of money for her digital double. With Robin’s son, Aaron, suffering from a degenerative condition which will see him loose both his sight and hearing, Robin reluctantly agrees. Twenty years later Robin is invited to the Congress to witness the next evolutionary phase in entertainment...

The Congress (2013. 1 hr, 57 min, 38 sec) is a science fiction film, written and directed by Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir. 2008) and loosely, in part, based on The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem. The film has won several awards for both acting and production.

I watched it with the other half and whilst I enjoyed the film, she did not. Partially this is because the Congress is represented by animation which takes over about a third of the film. The style is very Looney Tunes. Also meaning no disrespect to her indoors, this is a film that you have to concentrate on. Many of the pointers to what is going on are often contained in what could seem to be throw away lines.

Robin Wright plays a fictionalised version of herself, struggling with what many actresses must face, the drying up of roles as she gets older. This Robin has a further problem as she has a history of being a difficult actress, regardless of her success, walking off productions, costing the studio millions. Strong headed and individualistic as ever, Robin is appalled at the idea of selling her physical image to a corporation and it takes all of her agent's (Harvey Keitel) skill to persuade her that not only is this the way of the future, but that her previous behaviour means she will in all probability never be offered another part anyway.

This is not an unknown concept and one which has on occasion found itself into adverts, where the image of long dead actors is used to sell deodorant. It has also been used in a number of films where, unfortunately one of the stars has had the misfortune to die before completing their part. It raises an interesting question, just who does own the actor's image once they have been paid or they pass away? As he mostly exists in a computer it is not inconceivable that Miramax could produce a whole Gollum film without the participation or even agreement of the actor behind the motion capture.

These ideas and problems of ownership are contemporary issues and it is only when the film moves ahead twenty years to the Congress do we see any intersection with Lem’s work. Both film and story postulate a time where virtual reality progresses to a point where we can all retreat from reality to a world of our own making.

Although specifically stated in the film that everything Robin sees is of her own making, it’s never made clear whether the animated world is a construct of Robin's mind or a shared experience. On one level it is shared, as she is able to interact with other interpretations of real people, represented by animated characters and there is an inference that the animated world is a shared one, which allows each participant to be anything they so desire.

Here the film considers the question of how far ownership, not only of image, but also of self, should be given over to others, regardless of what they are offering. Things have progressed that now her twenty year contract has expired, the company wants to extend it indefinitely, only this time they want her essence, her soul if they can have it, allowing people to eat and drink her essence.

This is a film which raises many questions, without forcing the answers down the audience’s throat, an intelligent science fiction film. Wright and Keitel are excellent in their parts, but a little overshadowed by Danny Huston’s portrayal of the head of the studio, Jeff Green.

The disc is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with two audio tracks a DD5.1 and DD2.0. It’s not a particularly dynamic film and both options are clear and sharp, the disc also contains English subtitles for the hard of hearing. The extras are a little strange, The Making of (1 min, 23 sec) literally explains one split second of the film, so not really a making of at all. There are four scenes which have been broken down to demonstrate the animation process and the disc ends with the original theatrical trailer (1 min, 58 sec).

Overall, this was a really excellent, multi-layered film, which would reward you for multiple viewings, just a shame that as a DVD the extras were so thin on the ground.


Charles Packer

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