Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Congress (2013) The New York Jewish Film Festival 2014

It's all in your head- repeated refrain in The Congress

Let me be up front about this, you will either be madly in love with this film or running to the exits. The screening I attended had some people people leaving once things got really weird and others such myself leaning forward trying to suck in every frame and word into our brains.

The next thing I should say is I'm not sure if this is the last best film of 2013 or the first best film of 2014. Either way it's one of the best films I've seen in some year.

Loosely based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem the man who wrote the source novel for the Solaris films (Andre Tarkovsky's and Steven Soderbergh's) the film follows Robin Wright who plays a version of herself. She is offered a deal from a movie studio a 20 year deal to use her likeness. They will pay her a large fortune and then scan her so they can use her likeness anyway they want (with some restrictions) but she will never be able to act again. She takes the deal.  20 years later she's called back to renegotiate the deal at the time of the Futurist Congress...that's when things get animated-literally.

I'm not going to lie,this film has problems. The film takes a while to get going and then once it comes gloriously to life, it leaps 20 years into the future and has to get traction all over again. The film also suffers from a plot line and logic that sometimes comes and goes- which is annoying but keeping with the It's all in your head refrain that we hear repeated-since this film is all in someone's head.

Personally I forgave the bumps and burps, but some people left the screening shaking their head unsure of what they were seeing.

The styles of the animation are said to be based on those from the Fleischer Studios (Betty Boop, Popeye amongst others) but there are wild riffs on animators such as Ralph Bakshi, Rintaro and his Metropolis and Satoshi Kon and his Paprika, not to mention comic and fine art steals. There are riffs on various films (Dr Strangelove being the most obvious) and movie stars. I also see literary references including Michael Moorcocks Dancers at the End of Time and it's changing reality. The film is full of references and I can't wait until some one annotates the whole film.

For me the brilliance of the film comes from two places. First the film places you in a world of its own devising and it makes you believe its real. Yes its drug induced animation but something about the set up makes it all real.  Some how I really think I could buy that this sort of insanity would be possible.

The other place the film scores heavily is in all of the ideas it has floating around in it's demented little mind. Not only does it rip apart the entertainment industry but it examines the cult of self, the nature of reality (its all in your head), drugs, how we perceive each other (I don't want you to see me as I really am), the notion of love(I've loved you since I started animating you), story telling and I don't know what else. Joyously once we get animated ideas and thoughts and notions keep getting thrown at us.  So much came my way that I thought I was drowning.  There are simply too many ideas floating around in the film.

This is a film that needs to be seen multiple times before it can really be discussed. I stopped taking notes at a certain point. I had to, there simply was no way to write and process what I was seeing. More so I began to catch things in the later part of the film that referenced stuff from the beginning. Had I seen this on DVD or Bluray I would of gone back and checked the reference, but I couldn't do so.It was me and the film and one go through.

I should mention that there is so much visual information in the film you'll want to see the film as big as possible simply to have some sort of chance to catch everything that is going on.

Good god what a glorious mess. I would gladly sit through a flawed film such as this that touched my head and my heart and was carried with me out of the theater to the point where it colored the whole world after seeing it then sit through a super slick damn near perfect film from mainstream Hollywood. When the film ended and I hit daylight I started calling and texting friends to go see this film.

What a way to start a new year (or end an old one).

If you are willing to see something special, something far far from typical give The Congress a try. You may not love it like me, but I would be willing to take a white out pill to bet that you'll come out feeling you've seen something truly special.

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