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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.

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: