Ari Folman’s follow up to Waltz With Bashir combines live action feature and 2D animation sequences to explore the ethics of contemporary cinema and culture.

Ari Folman’s The Congress is not the most predictable follow-up to Waltz With Bashir. “I do not want to be put in a cage,” he told Screen, when asked why he had moved away from the Middle Eastern politics of Bashir (which was about soldiers in the 1982 Lebanese War.)  

His new film is a loose adaptation of a novella by the Polish science fiction writer and author of Solaris, Stanislaw Lem. The Congress deals with the dematerialization of society and questions the ethics – or absence of them – in contemporary cinema. Eschewing any Avatar-style technology, Folman has intentionally used traditional 2D animation techniques to explore questions of identity, reality and representation in a 3D era.

This project consists of two parts: a live-action feature lasting about 45 minutes, followed by an animation of about 50 minutes. There is no careful transition from one medium to the other, it is done in “one cut” Folman says, emphasizing that this sudden switch forces the viewer to compare the two aesthetics and think about how their differences inform the narrative. Folman, who says he “always loved” Lem’s 1971 novella “The Futurological Congress”, has written the script and has completed the illustrations for the animated section.

In the lead role, Robin Wright Penn plays an actress who has signed over her identity to a movie studio. Her contract forbids her to act or appear on screen in person. She hates to give up her craft, but her family and friends this deal is her only way to have a lasting career. The studio promises to keep her looking 32 forever, despite her real age of 44.

As the story jumps ahead 20 years, the animated portion of the film begins. Now, the original studio that bought Penn’s identity has merged with a Japanese pharmaceutical company and has become all-powerful. The drugs the company manufactures are used around the world: in rich countries they have life enhancing qualities and are pumped through the water resources; in the Third World people take them so they are able to work longer hours, which their employers exploit to the full. Penn’s contract is up for renewal but its terms will be different. Her identity will be owned by the studio, but it will also be packaged and sold to anyone, as “a chemical substance that people can fill their dreams with,” Folman explains.

French company Les Armateurs is overseeing production, with co-producers Le Pacte (France) and Pandora Film (Germany).

Folman presented clips of this project in development at Lyon’s Cartoon Movie festival in March, in a bid to secure more international backers. Funding is already in place from Polish company OpusFilm and UK-based Corniche Pictures. The film’s total budget will be about $10.8m (Euros 8m), with half of that going to the animation work (which will take place in France.) The film will be in the works for two years, for a planned release in 2013.

Folman is currently location scouting in the United States and will shoot the live action footage for about three weeks this summer. The Tel Aviv-based director hopes to base himself in Paris during the animation work (which will be done by the same team responsible for Bashir.)