Official Competition, 2022.
Directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat.
Starred Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, José Luis Gómez, Manolo Solo, Nagore Aranburu, Irene Escolar, Pilar Castro, Koldo Olabarri, and Juan Grandinetti.
A wealthy businessman hires a famous filmmaker to help make a smash hit film.
An 80-year-old pharmaceutical CEO is contemplating what he will leave behind and how he will be remembered. He has two ideas to curry public favor: building a bridge in his name or financing a large-scale film production featuring some heavy-duty star power and a respectable art-house director based on a novel he bought the rights to. Such is the premise of directors Mariano Cohn’s and Gastón Duprat’s Official Competition (the filmmakers also wrote the screenplay alongside Andrés Duprat), which sees Oscar-winner Penélope Cruz as a crazy-haired control freak fictional filmmaker Lola Cuevas, casting two egomaniacs played by Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez in prestigious roles.
Amusingly, Lola is less interested in adapting the love triangle thriller primarily centered on estranged brothers and more fascinated by placing Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez, who are playing fictional stars Félix Rivero and Iván Torres, opposite one another. The characters have never acted alongside one another in a film, probably for a good reason. Felix is more of a self-absorbed celebrity, whereas Iván comes from a theater background and with a smug and pretentious attitude. Both are powerhouses in their respective bubbles but couldn’t be more different in terms of philosophies regarding acting and general show business. Despite that, both of them desperately need a humility check.
Initially, Official Competition feels it will be a serious treatise on the collaboration process between actors and filmmakers, especially with some early scenes with Lola guiding the stars on how to deliver lines. She has even cast them as characters somewhat opposite their personalities. However, it’s not long before Felix and Iván can’t even agree on how to do a scene together, let alone explain to Lola their preferred methods.
It’s also a pleasant surprise that there is some staggering, gorgeous production design on display, making use of giant screen monitors, wide shots with colorful walls, symmetrical photography, varied and excellent usage of lighting, and more directorial touches to keep Official Competition away from abusing standard shot-reverse shot conversations. There is a style here, so kudos to cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer and everyone involved with the film’s eye-catching look.
Still, the real reason to watch Official Competition is that it’s frequently hilarious how Lola finds ways to force the actors to bond and sometimes torments them (there’s a gut-busting scene involving various awards the actors have amassed over their careers). Throughout that, Felix and Iván also play mind games to determine the better performer. Some of these antics also get dark, with the film taking some questionable unexpected turns, but there is also a demented cleverness to the ending. Penélope Cruz also gets plenty of moments to shine, keeping these immature and entitled jerks in check, including a bit where she makes them look like fools outclassing them in preparation for a scene involving intimacy.
There’s not much done with the framing device of why this movie within a movie is getting made in the first place, but the filmmakers sure do mine Official Competition for nearly 2 hours of laughs. It doesn’t hold any punches towards the spoiled attitude of actors from different backgrounds while giving each of its three central performers plenty of outstanding material.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com