BIFF Film Review: The Congress (Israel/Germany/France, 2013)


You know when you watch a film, and when someone asks you to describe what you just watched you’re completely lost for words? Ari Folman’s The Congress is one of those films. It’s a psychedelic rabbit hole that you’ll tumble down with increasing velocity, leaving logic and reason behind for an experience like no other.

Robin Wright stars as Robin Wright, a washed up actor who hasn’t worked in years due to her difficult reputation and bad choices, as she is constantly reminded by her agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head honcho of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston). One such “bad choice” was caring for her daughter Sarah (Sami Gayle), and son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) – who suffers from a debilitating syndrome that will see him lose his sight and hearing. Robin is given an offer she can’t refuse – the ability to stay forever young, thanks to a new Hollywood technology that will see her actor persona stored digitally for studio manipulation – of course, on the condition that she never acts again.

It’s a fascinating setup that’s rife with dramatic potential. However the second section of the film, based in part on classic science fiction novel The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem, doesn’t go anywhere you would expect having read my synopsis. We’re thrown headfirst twenty years in the future, into a hallucinogenic animated landscape – the congress of the title – where Robin finds herself trapped, along with a mysterious love interest (voiced by Jon Hamm).

The biggest kudos of the film should undoubtedly go to Robin Wright. It’s difficult to imagine another Hollywood actress taking on a role that involves much of her screen time being told she’s obsolete. She is fearless in this film, and the results are excellent. The animation is breathtaking, creating a psychedelic wonderland that’s both inviting and sinister, and if you’re familiar with Ari Folman’s previous film Waltz with Bashir this will come as no surprise.

But for all The Congress has going for it, I was underwhelmed. What begins as one woman’s morality struggle for the first half becomes something very different once things get animated. I really couldn’t give you a simple answer as to what happens in the second half as it spans decades and alternate realities; maybe I shouldn’t have been expecting something straightforward. But there are some dazzling set pieces to be found, (the scene where Robin is “scanned” is one of my favourites to the year) and it’s a fascinating commentary on the culture of celebrity that still has a lot of merit.

So I don’t quite know what I thought of The Congress. It’s a maddening, nonsensical, and utterly fascinating experiment that I plan on revisiting. I urge you to see it for yourself and make up your mind.


The Congress screened at – and was reviewed during – the Brisbane International Film Festival.


This content has recently been ported from its original home on The Iris and may have formatting errors – images may not be showing up, or duplicated, and galleries may not be working. We are slowly fixing these issue. If you spot any major malfunctions making it impossible to read the content, however, please let us know at editor AT