On a swelteringly hot Thursday the 18th of July, the opening ceremony of the 17th Buchon International Fantastic Film Festival began with a wonderful red carpet event.
Film stars, directors and programmers from a variety of countries all traversed the carpet to the screams of gathered fans. Hosts Shin Hyeon-joon and Choi Soo-young from Girls’ Generation were among the first to walk down followed by PiFan lady and guy Fuji Mina and Lee Hyun-woo, before several notable and internationally acclaimed film stars including Yeo Min-jeong, Son Se-bin, Kim Yoon-hye, Lee Soo-hyeok, Lee Chae-young, Park Ji-soo, Jeong Han-bi, Ahn Seung-gi, and directors Im Kwon-taek and Kim Dong-ho.
Once everyone was seated the opening ceremony began, kicked off with a performance from Kpop star – and former Buchon resident – Lee Hi, who sang her hit ‘Rose’. Shortly thereafter the PiFan awards ceremony took place, celebrating some the most popular contemporary Korean film stars. Ma Dong-seok walked away with the IT Star Award, while Kim Soo-hyun and Park Shin-hye were the recipients of the Fantasia Awards, as voted by Buchon citizens. Superstars Lee Byeong-heon and Jeon Ji-hyeon were awarded the Producers’ Choice Awards, respectively.
Once all the festivities had settled down, it was time for the opening film The Congress to begin.
The Congress – 6/10
Directed by Israeli Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), The Congress tells the story of Robin Wright (playing herself), an actress who has burnt all her bridges in Hollywood and is given one final option – to sell her very ‘image’ for ‘computer artists’ to use as they please. Left with little alternative, Robin goes through with the procedure and her image makes a fortune for the studio, appearing in projects the real Robin would never do. Yet with the rapid evolution of entertainment the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred, and Robin must attempt to rediscover her identity and return to reality. As such the film is an interesting exploration of the very concepts of identity and entertainment, as well as a scathing portrayal of the manner in which women are exploited in the Hollywood system. Initially The Congress is somewhat of a pseudo-documentary, as Robin’s life is almost uncomfortably laid bare for the audience to witness and pass judgement. Such scenes often succumb to needless repetition however, as Robin is repeatedly attacked for her history of bad choices over and over again, although it does allow Folman to convey how the actress is used and abused in various relationships. The best scene in the film comes during these scenes as Harvey Keitel performs a gripping personal monologue, which the competent directing doesn’t really capitalize on. Yet as the narrative jumps twenty years into the future The Congress becomes an animated fantasy which, while gorgeously retro, is continuously frustrating. This is chiefly due to fact that it’s difficult to ascertain what exactly Robin’s impetus is in this whacky world. While it articulates how people often wish to escape themselves in old-school animated form, the film really loses a lot of the drive during this particular area of the narrative. The Congress is an interesting film that articulates a lot of important debates surrounding identity and the future of entertainment, yet it’s also a frustrating endeavour.