The Congress

The Congress, stars Robin Wright as an ageing actress called Robin Wright. Facing rapidly diminishing stardom, she’s made an offer by the decidedly nefarious Miramount Studios (Mira- / – mount, geddit?), who want to scan her into their computers and take ownership of her image for an astronomical fee. With an eye on the needs of her sick son, she ultimately accepts this devil’s contract, and essentially becomes a non-person for the next two decades. So far so good. Twenty years later, Digital Robin is now a megastar sci-fi action heroine, while Real Robin is an elderly woman attending a congress in the studio’s alternate reality digital world of Abrahama. This is when things go really cuckoo and the action morphs into the most bizarre animated world since The Yellow Submarine….

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You know, I can’t really explain it, at least not in a few words. Speechless: you know that doesn’t happen to me often. Rather, here’s the synopsis from the film’s own site, so you sort it out. Honestly? I almost gave up on it a few times during the 2 hour run. Robin Wright (live action version) is just lovely – lovely – her choices are heartfelt and the initial set-up is creepy but fascinating. The animation parts, when you get to them, are harder to swallow, or at least harder to stick with. I found they lost me a bit, emotionally. The movie is also jam packed with ideas – the blistering critique of Hollywood and fame being the most gleeful – but many of the concepts aren’t fully explored or even properly sketched. So it’s a frustrating watch, on the whole. In spite of that though, I truly felt I was viewing something extraordinary, an innovative and inventive voice, and a totally unique cinematic experience the likes of which you just don’t often come across these days. So I’d say definitely watch it. Just don’t necessarily expect to understand it.

The Conspirator

Continuing with the American History theme in this week’s film-watching, I caught Robert Redford’s The Conspirator this morning. Awesome. I admit, I cried a bit. You know, Redford’s previous attempt to criticize the Bush government’s abuses of power – Lions for Lambs – was a complete clunker and virtually unwatchable? This time though, he couches his righteous indignation within one of the most painful moments in the US’s turbulent history, in the events surrounding the assassination of President Lincoln. His film focuses on the show trial of Mary Surratt, the only woman tried for the monstrous crime, and whose boarding house was the meeting place of the conspirators (who included her 21 year old son Johnny.)

Guilly? Innocent? Involved? Not? Well that’s not really the point. Because to the horror of her lawyer and her surviving daughter (and to the horror of me, in the audience) the Secretary of War is basically out for a mighty swift revenge that will prevent any such event happening again. In the panic and scramble, all her rights are essentially stripped, as a civilian she becomes subject to a Military tribunal, is judged by nine military men rather than a jury of her peers, and her right to council is undermined. In the light of the Bush government’s treatment of Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, for example – designating them “enemy combatants” and asserting the power to hold them indefinitely, without charges and without access to counsel, there’s clearly a terrible historical parallel post 9-11.

So, big, important themes. But it’s also tremendously well executed. Every scene is painstakingly stylish, the casting is pitch-perfect (James McAvoy and Robin Wright, excellent) and even the pacing is great for a court-room drama. And it filmed in historic Savannah, one of my favorite US cities, and an evocative, photogenic place I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years. It was wonderful to see the city come to life on the screen, and the streets that I’ve walked on too many occasions to recount, transformed into their muddy, horse-drawn, gas-lit glory. Loved it.