Film Review: Official Competition
Director: Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, José Luis Gómez, Manolo Solo, Nagore Aramburu
Running Time: 115
Australian Distributor: Madman Films
Humberto (José Luis Gómez), a millionaire nearing his 80th birthday, wants to be remembered for producing a great film. He hires Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) to direct it. Lola casts actors for the two roles in the film: Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas). The two actors’ egos and acting methods clash as they meet with Lola to rehearse for the film.
Most of the film is the process of rehearsal, with Lola subjecting the film’s two stars to more and more absurd trials and micro-management designed to break down their egos. To tell you much more would spoil the fun, but between watching the pair work while underneath a suspended five-tonne boulder (to enhance the tension of the scene) and physically destroying some of their acting awards, there is plenty of humour to be mined from watching Martínez and Banderas squirm.
This is all separate from the consideration of Martínez and Banderas personal and professional rivalry within the narrative though, and they are perfectly cast to do so. Playing a pair of brothers with an intense rivalry, Iván and Félix couldn’t be more accurately cast, and neither could Martínez and Banderas to play them. Each plays an extended satire of themselves, this is one of the ways the film layers on subtext and satire, as each of these realities informs the other.
It is perhaps Cruz who steals the show though, with an impossible amount of curly red hair and a knack for cutting people down to size, her Lola is the source of the best set-ups in the film and some of the biggest laughs that result. Combined with the ease at which she one-ups them in almost every regard, she also claims one of the funniest and starkest moments of the film.
Directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat allow all of this to breathe and exist in a stark, minimalist environment. Most of the film is set in an empty apartment building with little to no furniture, which leaves the performers with nothing to play off but each other. It’s a masterful choice. All three stars get a chance to do some capital-A acting, and whether they’re fighting, throwing a temper tantrum, or confessing difficult truths, there’s nary a wasted scene between them.
There might be an issue with the film’s length and pace. There are big laughs, but some of the set-ups to gain those laughs are purposefully tense to get through. However, Official Competition is an excellent film, and one that I hope has enough star power to play to a wider audience. Cruz, Martínez, and Banderas are all excellent, and the layering of the plot and themes is masterfully handled. It is something that should stand the test of time and be remembered, giving its makers a lasting legacy.
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