From the Maker of 'Waltz With Bashir' Comes 'The Congress'

Ari Folman, who stunned audiences with his animated documentary about Israel's First Lebanon War, will soon release a new film based on a novel by Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem.

A Facebook survey asked me: “What is the film to which you are most looking forward in 2013?” Without a moment’s hesitation I replied: Ari Folman’s “The Congress,” even though it wasn’t even one of the possibilities.

In fact, ever since 2008, the year the genre-busting “Waltz with Bashir” came out, Folman has become the most important Israeli director in the world.

As evidence: The prestigious cinema site Indiewire was excited to declare on Tuesday night new pictures form “The Congress” have been released to the Internet and even though there is no official release date for the film, the speculation online is that it will debut at the Cannes Film Festival this coming May.

Why is “The Congress” so exciting? First off all, Folman is continuing to develop here his unique use of animation. While “Waltz with Bashir” used animation throughout – apart from the chilling final scene, which is made up of filmed archival materials – “The Congress” combines animation and live action. And judging by the pictures that have been released, it does this in a hypnotizing way that looks like a direct continuation of the visual style of “Waltz.”

In addition, the film is based on the book “The Futurological Congress” by Stanislaw Lem, a Polish writer of science fiction, philosophy and satire who wrote the successful “Solaris." For the first time in his career, Folman is working with stars of the first rank: Robin Wright (who is now starring in David Fincher’s new series “House of Cards”), Harvey Keitel (“Reservoir Dogs”), Paul Giamatti (who has cropped up recently in the disturbing “Cosmopolis”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Road”).

Full disclosure: Lem’s book has been lying at my bedside for nearly half a year now but I haven’t read it yet. According to the official brief summary on the movie database site IMDb, the film is about “an aging, out-of-work actress who accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn't consider." The company, it seems, wants to make unlimited use of her identity by creating infinite clones of her.

“I read the book recently and there is no unemployed actress in it or cloning or doubles, so if that is the plot of the film, Folman has invented it," says critic Yaniv Edelstein. "Altogether, it seems to me Folman has moved far from the book. It’s quite a fun book, set in a chaotic and loony future in the first part and in a more advanced future in the second part. In fact the first part is a lot more successful.”

The Mechanical Orange is a blog about culture in general and the cinema in particular, especially in New York but also elsewhere. Neta Alexander is a journalist at Haaretz and holds a master’s degree in the history and philosophy of the cinema form Columbia University in New York - and is still dreaming of making documentary films.