Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Congress

(France, Israel, 2013)

Okay, I tend to like weird movies, but it helps if there is just a smidgen of sense to them. This one starts off pretty wacky, and then goes completely off the rails. At the same time, it is a delight to look at. It is broadly (very broadly) based on Stanislaw Lem’s The Futurological Congress, a book I’ve never read, as I never could seem to get into Mr. Lem’s brand of science fiction.

Robin Wright plays a fictional version of herself … if that makes any sense. We know it’s the real Robin, because reference is made to her roles in The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump. We know it is not the real Robin because she is washed up, with a reputation for being difficult, unable to get a new picture past a horrible studio boss. All he will offer her is that she be recorded, a full-body scan that will enable the studio to star her in movie after movie without having her on the set. This is happening to all actors, as the movie business is being turned upside down by new technologies. Which is certainly true today.

That was an interesting premise. Way back in the ‘80s, Douglas Trumbull told me he intended to assemble a stable of CGI and robot players, like R2D2 or Gollum, and never have to deal with those annoying actors again. Nothing ever came of that, it was too early, but we’re approaching it today with motion capture suits, greenscreen, and of course much more sophisticated CGI. I believe it would be easy, for instance, to make a film today starring Cary Grant and Betty Grable, if anyone wanted to.

Anyway, Robin gives in, and then we cut to twenty years later. She is going to the Congress to deliver the keynote speech. Before she gets there she is given an ampule to inhale, like everyone else attending. As she drives, the drug kicks in, and she and her car and the environment become animated. When I say animated, I mean super-duper psychedelic in-your-face Betty Boop Salvador Dali pink elephants on parade bull-goose-looney bonzo gonzo crazy animated. It is probably the best work I’ve seen since The Triplets of Belleville or The Yellow Submarine. It is amazing, it is a delight to watch. No less than six animation studios were involved in it, from Luxembourg to the Philippines.

Apparently everyone at the Congress is high on a new drug that turns you into a real-life avatar of who you would like to be … or something like that. It’s sort of fun to spot cartoon celebrities passing by or in the background. Robin, despite having insisted she doesn’t want her CGI self to star in any science fiction, is now known globally for “Rebel Robot Robin,” a kick-ass ninja type. There is a really funny scene where (in “live action,” not animation) she takes the Slim Pickens role from Dr. Strangelove, riding that damn bomb right down to the ground.

But about a half hour into the animation, I realized I had no idea at all what was going on. I mean, no fucking idea. I read the plot outline at Wiki and I still don’t really know what was happening. While I’m glad I saw it, I can’t really recommend it to anyone unless you get off on ambiguity. However, I will say that if you get off on amazing animation, it could be worth your while just for that.