Fame, stardom, celebrity, immortality; these are things that many, many people dream of attaining. To be considered legend, to attain unending youth and be a beacon of joy, hope and entertainment for the masses for an indefinite amount of time; who doesn’t want that? With the stars of today (and of yesteryear), the only way to attain such immortality was to aspire to being a part of something that would, in due time, become classic and beloved. This is the only way to assure that their legacy, their stardom, would live on.
In that sense actors like Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh are immortal.
In Ari Folman’s semi-animated film, ‘The Congress’, the theme of stardom and immortality is broached from a bold new vantage point. Here, Robin Wright is playing herself. She’s the same famed actress she is in real life, but she’s also facing the obvious fact that she is not a young starlet anymore and despite the fact that she’s been in a few well received (and semi-beloved) films, she’s somewhat considered washed up. Her career is at a brick wall that she may not be able to get through. This is when she’s given a proposition. Sell your likeness, your being, to the studios so that they can use you in any film without restriction and in this way you will be compensated duly and, in many respects, become immortal. She will be forever young. She will be a true star because she can, and will, be everywhere; all things to all people, and in the meantime she will be able to live her life separate from the harsh realities of celebrity, care for her sick child and enjoy her life.
Sign on the dotted line.
Then the years pass by, her fame rises and her contract nears expiration, and so Robin travels to The Congress Convention, where she is to contemplate renewing her contract, only to have her world thrown into complete disarray as she starts to debate, question even, the morality of what she’s done.
‘The Congress’ asks a lot of questions between the lines, but there is something that leaves me feeling like the film is somewhat underdeveloped. It doesn’t feel complete in the sense that I would have liked it to. While it contains some great ideas, it doesn’t quite tackle them in a manner that feels fully answered. The struggle to decide whether our free will, our freedom of choice, is worth losing for the longevity of a career, of a name, is given light, but in the final frames it never feels wholly fleshed out. Instead, ‘The Congress’ feels like a lot of ideas tossed into a pot that is never quite stirred enough for them to all mesh together and become one.
And yet, there is a beauty to ‘The Congress’. Wright delivers a tender and thoughtful performance, and Keitel (who isn’t used enough) shatters in one of the most absorbing and outstanding scenes of the film year. The score is simply perfect, soaring in all the right areas and lifting the film it remarkable heights. And like I said, there is a commendable complexity and relevance to the themes presented here, even if they don’t always come together how I’d like.
It’s intriguing and thought provoking, which is what cinema should be.