"We'll do all the things that your Robin Wright wouldn't do," a studio boss (Danny Huston) tells Robin Wright (playing herself) early in The Congress. "I need Jenny from Forrest Gump, I need what's-her-name from State of Grace. That's who I need--I don't need you." He can have her: The studio will scan her--face, body, laugh, tears--recreate her in pixels, erase 10 years off her skin, and cast the younger, digital Robin in whatever they want.
Wrigtht says "yes," and so begins Ari Folman's (Waltz With Bashir) The Congress, an over-reaching, half-animated sci-fi cartoon that keeps a foot in reality long enough to accuse her of sabotaging her career. That scanning technology is real enough--Wright's already been rotoscoped twice for Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. And the way the movies dispose of over-35 actresses is so true that it stings. Wright's performance in the scanning machine is a barnstormer. She wrings out every emotion for Miramont's future use -- and her own grand farewell as an actress.
After hooking us on a tabloid fading-star narrative, The Congress plunges into the absurd: Wright flattens out into a glamorous 2D cartoon as The Congress leaps again and again into a future where the synthetic has replaced the real. The Congress is less a movie than a mood, or really, a manifesto about the value of humanity that can't quite cohere. Like its actress, it's an ambitious knockout that doesn't quite live up to its potential. But its argument is worth hearing: Instead of crying for the collapse of one actress, Folman is crying for the collapse of civilization, the triumph of the synthetic over the real.