In an alternative present in which the career of the actor Robin Wright (played by Robin Wright) is in the doldrums, her agent (Harvey Keitel) persuades her to sign a contract with Miramount that will allow them to use her in whatever future studio product it likes. She won't even have to turn up to set any more. All she need do is allow them to digitally scan her image and likeness one time, and the film-makers will take care of the rest. Keanu Reeves and Michelle Williams have already agreed.
In an example of the kind of playful self-reflexive irony that typifies this ambitious partial reworking of Stanislaw Lem's hallucinatory satirical sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress, Wright agrees to sign the contract on the stipulation of a "no sci-fi clause".
Then the film cuts to 20 years later, when Hollywood has become a literal dream factory, and Wright ingests a psychedelic that takes her to the animated wonderland – equal parts Studio Ghibli and Yellow Submarine – where people's famous avatars get to hang out with other people's famous avatars; where R2D2 is a floor polisher and Michael Jackson works in a lobster restaurant.
The Congress, which is the Israeli director Ari Folman's English-language follow-up to his 2008 animated war documentary, Waltz with Bashir, is a very peculiar film, indeed. The best bit is his own invention: the insider Hollywood satire and anti-technology manifesto of the first half, which he has called "a profound cry of nostalgia for the old-time cinema we know and love".
The animated dreamworld of the second half is a wonderfully colourful and bizarre place, but so confusing that it is hardly credible that consumers of the future are going to want to pay money to spend time there.