The Congress by Ari Folman: conceptual animation

Based on the science fiction and satirical novel “ The Futurological Congress” of Stanislaw Lem, “The Congress” directed by the Israeli Ari Folman indicates he has a knack for creating a surrealistic kind of conceptual animation so as to cover even hard sociopolitical aspects of his subject in a cultural framework. Five years after “Waltz with Bashir”, Ari Folman considers his new movie as being his naughty kid, a hellion, who causes problems everywhere. On the other hand, he loves this child very much as the most representative piece of him. That’s what he said to the audience, at the 19th International Film Festival of Athens, “Nychtes Premieras” yesterday evening.

“The Futurological Congress” is a symbolical novel of political character. It regards the way power works and controls people. Polish Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006), whom we know better from Solaris, wrote a satirical text of political insinuations where industry is the power that confirms its value by deceiving –and, thus, damaging- the individuals treated as isolated but also as productive and profitable units.

So the story existed. Moreover, Folman had a personal experience relating to a former famous actress, who was not recognizable recently in Cannes due to her age. He included the feeling of this fact in the script. Whereas, the essential, for him, was to focus on the actress who would incorporate his vision to make a movie even for his personal status, by broadening the novel subject into a wider cultural scale so as to approach the issues of age and sadness in time, of compromise, decay and deception after all. Luck supported him and, given that he had the chance to meet Robin Wright at an international meeting, he proposed her acting in his movie by showing her excerpts as if the script were made exclusively for her. We know what followed.   

“Release your chemistry to the world”: this could be the motto of any enterprise, any collective source of images and patterns, so as to control people by seducement and bet on both their sexuality and libido nature. Robin Wright is the actress who goes through this adventure of becoming somebody else. She is an aging woman and so, this is an important reason for lending her image to Miramount Studios. There, they will convert her into a digital actress with a scanned body of an everlasting youth. No wonder. This is the profitable slogan: “for ever young”. Less powerful, less beautiful, less attractive is painful. And Wright pays the price.

What happens, anyway, when people still think, deprived of action and creativity? They are sad and need pills to survive. Although Robin Wright sold her movie rights to Miramount, her decision made her suffer, because she promised not to act again. Instead, she got a computer-generated character. This is the first level of decay, when action has nothing to do with you but with your icon. This is the first compromise.

After 40 minutes around, here the book reference title comes: the congress. Twenty years later, Robin goes to attend “the Futurological Congress”, where Miramount Studios highlight their brand-new technology. It’s about the second level of decay, when your mind gets rotten and lacks in originality, creativity, space actually! According to the movie, people can now transform themselves into animated avatars like that of Michael Jackson appearing later in the “Chemical Party”. Their salvation is hidden in a pill. Miramount Studios now bet on Robin’s giving people the right to become her avatars. First, Robin makes the insane agreement but, all of a sudden, she realizes that she consented to become a product in a pill. So she denies officially before the public and, thus, saves herself from being killed by enemies of technological monopoly. Then, Miramount Nagasaki Police imprison and are about to execute her, but later a modern protector appears and takes her to the “Chemical Party”. On the other side of this chemical world, of course, there is…truth. Robin explores the new condition but still misses her son and wants to find him, years later, looking for his presence in time.

In conclusion, “The Congress” is a symbolical movie about the human composure beyond –and except for- the technological insanity. However, according to Julia Kristeva[1], sadness, the depressive emotion, can be interpreted as a form of defense against the process of cutting-up. It is claimed that sadness reconstructs and reunifies the “ego” that regains unity through this emotion sheath.

Consequently, “The Congress” has a closer look at time, from a subjective aspect, when things are occasions of a personal trip and reconsideration in time. That’s why this “hellion”, this naughty kid, is beloved by Folman. It is a mirror of his feeling – I won’t define it as stress, for it is much more- towards his course in time. From this symbolical standpoint, Robin is a Muse, a soul, and Aaron is her son who awaits and seeks an answer like a modern Telemachus. Why sadness? Why truth? Because –otherwise- we would not have started from a denial to end up in a kind of deception and judge the deceptive side of life as well as of things. Because –otherwise- we would not have pursued our creativity so as to release this body adventure confessed by the emotion. Sadness indicates detachment. It is an impulse for addressing ourselves to symbolism so as to correlate experiences of reality together.

(Well done Mr. Folman, but no pills provided after your movie…) 

[1] Julia Kristeva, Soleil noir, Dépression et mélancolie, Gallimard, Paris 1987.

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