Ari Folman

cong

When it comes to independent films and major releases, animation is fairly underutilized medium. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it’s generally used for kid-centric stories or to paint a lush, if slightly more adult, world. That’s why movies like A Scanner Darkly and The Congress are so special. They use animation for drama and to express ideas that go beyond a few pretty shots. Both films shouldn’t be compared past that point, but they are both emotional, visual, and mental exercises — rides that you either go along with from the start or don’t. If director Ari Folman‘s The Congress grabs you from its first frame, then expect a rich science-fiction film packed with commentary, ideas, laughs, tears, and beauty.  Speaking of beauty, Robin Wright (played conveniently by Robin Wright) has lost it, at least according to some slimy agist studio executive we meet working at Miramount. She’s now 44 years old. That usually means for actresses their careers are winding down, but after years of “bad” choices and choosing family over work, Robin isn’t the big deal that she once was. The offers aren’t coming in, at least not the offers she’s interested in — she wouldn’t ever dare to take part in a science-fiction film.

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Robin Wright in The Congress

Stardom is a fundamentally contradictory experience for audiences. On the one hand, we can feel like we know a star intimately as a human being, despite the many roles that they play and despite the fact that they do not know us. We carry our past knowledge of the star onto each new project. And every time a star is captured by a camera, a brief record of them is made, in a moment solidified for a seeming eternity. Marlene Dietrich may be long deceased, but in revisiting any close-up fashioned from Josef von Sternberg’s films, she can feel as immediate to us as she was to the cameras eighty years ago. On the other hand, a star is always both more and less than a human being. Stars are the foundation for an industry of magazines, brand names readily available for peddling products, personalities to be mimicked, fashion icons to aspire to, and economic conditions for a film’s making and marketing. We can experience fleeting moments of intimacy with a star image, but the industry that makes stardom possible continually alienates us from a polished, selectively represented human being before us. It is through this dual capacity of stardom that stars continue to exist well after the physical lives of the people who embodied them. These inherent tensions between personhood and media are explored in great depth in Ari Folman’s new film The Congress, a film that uses the strange condition of stardom and the technological advancements of the current […]

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Anne Frank

When you think of family-friendly entertainment, your mind doesn’t necessarily go to the Holocaust first. But Waltz With Bashir and The Congress director Ari Folman has a particular vision in mind, signing up to direct and write an animated film based on the life and diary of Anne Frank. The untitled project is not necessarily another incarnation of The Diary of Anne Frank, which has had its share of adaptations (including the 1959 Oscar-winning version), but a work inspired by the journal and the archives of the Anne Frank Fonds Basel. Folman and his crew are the first filmmakers to obtain complete access to those archives, founded in 1963 by Frank’s father, so while the premise of an animated Anne Frank story seems slightly odd at this moment, there must be something promising at hand.

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The Congress

Ari Folman‘s The Congress appears to play its hand quite quickly – the Cannes film’s first trailer opens with a shot of star Robin Wright being talked to by a faceless man as if she were, well, Robin Wright. Sure, this is a slightly skewed “Robin Wright” (it doesn’t seem as if this Robin starred in House of Cards, but damn if it doesn’t seem like she started her career with The Princess Bride), but it’s a version of “Robin Wright” nonetheless. And someone has a proposition for her. At first, it all seems relatively straightforward – a Hollywood studio (“Miramount,” which certainly looks like another studio that ends in “-mount”) wants to purchase the rights to Wright’s likeness and, thanks to technology, that essentially means they will scan every bit of her (not just physical, by any means) and use it to “star” in any film they see fit. It’s not a great deal, but it might be her last shot, so she takes. Obviously, it’s not all going to end well, but Folman’s film subverts our ideas of what would follow from such a deal, and it all goes totally wild, nuts, and (maybe even) amazing, as The Congress unfolds into vibrant animation and stirring score, with a possibly epic adventure thrown into the mix. It’s really one stunning trailer, and our hopes for the final film are now suitably high. Um, also? Wright might have animated sex with animated Jon Hamm (it certainly sounds like him). You’re sold now, right? Get a taste for The Congress after the break.

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Culture Warrior

I often find that, as a devotee to cinema and little else, I understand history through cinema. After all, cinema can take me to places I’ve never been and times I never lived with a particular sensory gestalt that’s simply not quite the same in other art forms. This is not to say that I make the mistake of substituting cinema for history, or treat cinema the same way I would treat a credible historical annal. But cinema, especially narrative fiction, has a fascinating capacity to represent subjective experiences and particular perspectives of history. By considering history through its cinematic representation, we may not become authorities of chronology, but rather understand emotions and experiences associated with lived events. Few movies claim to be comprehensive authorities of historical representation through cinema (and yes, selection, while problematic is essential for historical writing as well, but cinema simply provides yet another layer of artifice). Some films are canonized as such (anything from Saving Private Ryan to Ken Burns’s documentaries), but even as these are incomplete historiographies, they are in a sense “complete” biographies of thought, reflection, interpretation, and emotion.

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