starring: antonio banderas, penelope cruz, oscar martinez, and irene escolar
REVIEWER: nick tonkin
A wealthy businessman hires a neurotic director to produce his crowning achievement, a brilliant art film.
Official Competition is a Spanish language comedy of biting wit and deceptively simple premise featuring impressive performances from each of its three leads: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez.
An ageing wealthy magnate begins to feel the need to cultivate his legacy, so he muses on the notion of donating a bridge to a town so it could be named after him. However, the idea comes to mind to fund the production of a film, something with stars and real talent in it. He meets with eccentric director Lola Cuevas, a Palme d'Or laureate, who has been developing an adaptation of an award winning novel about a man unable to forgive his brother for the accidental killing of their parents.
The magnate hasn't read the book but knows he wants real talent and stars in the film so Lola suggests two men: Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez), renowned stage actor and Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) a famous celebrity actor. With each of the men feted on opposing sides of the spectrum of their occupation, Lola predicts that the inevitable clash of craft and ego will bring the realism she wants to the film.
Official Competition skewers the film industry with its depiction of the behaviours of eccentric, entitled and egotistical personalities enabled by honorifics and investor funding. Writer/Director duo Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn must have met these kinds of people in their career thus far to write such characters so convincingly and direct their leads to define them so well. Penelope Cruz’s Lola is frustrating, unpredictable and rather ruthless while Oscar Martínez’s Iván is highly experienced, opinionated and hubristic. Iván immediately clashes with Félix (Antonio Banderas), whom he perceives to be vapid and unlearned with a poor work ethic.
Official Competition is set during the rehearsals undertaken during pre-production for their film, and here Lola tests and bends these two to the extent they are at each other's throats in one moment, and one-upping each other in contests of acting ability in another. Though they are united in disbelief in one scene when Lola takes their prestigious acting awards to a wood chipper while the two men are plastic wrapped together, helpless to do anything but watch; all as an exercise to help the actors come closer to one another, as brothers would be. It’s ridiculous and extreme, though somehow the film takes moments like these and sells them, tying them to its ultimate incisive insight of the wider film industry.
Official Competition is an incisive satire of film-making, with biting humour and excellent performances making it an absolutely compelling watch.