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Best-known in the United States for the Oscar-nominated “Waltz with Bashir” and HBO’s excellent series “In Treatment,” Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman takes on his most ambitious project yet with “The Congress,” a puzzle movie that works astonishingly well during its first half.

That’s the live-action part. Then, as he did with “Waltz,” Folman relies on psychedelic animation of adult dramatic material. It’s a mistake. Not necessarily because it’s animated but because it loses focus.

During those opening scenes, however, Robin Wright delivers a brave, eloquent performance as a washed-up Hollywood actress who once starred in hits (“The Princess Bride” is suggested as an example) but made a few lousy choices that tanked at the box office.

Danny Huston is wonderfully creepy as the malevolent studio chief who offers a squirm-inducing contract based on buying her image for eternity. Harvey Keitel is her agent, and Jon Hamm and Paul Giamatti add flavor to the mix.

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After this stunning setup, “The Congress” becomes as frustrating and expensive-looking as “Cloud Atlas.” Try to follow it and you may feel abandoned in a maze.

John Hartl:

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