Directed By Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat
Starring – Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martinez
The Plot – A billionaire businessman (Jose Luis Gomez) in search of fame and social prestige decides to make a unique, groundbreaking film. To achieve this goal, he hires the best of the best: A stellar team consisting of famous filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Cruz) and two well-known actors who boast not only an enormous talent, but also an even bigger ego: Hollywood star Félix Rivero (Banderas) and aging theater thespian Iván Torres (Martinez). They’re both legends, but not exactly the best of friends. Through a series of increasingly hilarious tests set by Lola, Félix and Iván must confront not only each other, but also their own legacies.
Rated R for adult language and some nudity
Above all else, “Official Competition” is an insightful delve into the moviemaking process that not only pulls back the curtain for a first-class education for how films are created, but also crafts with it a compelling character study between its leads that supplants a trio of buzzworthy performances along the way. For at least the first half of the movie, it’s a script that values awkwardness to enhance the comedic consistency in tone, earning more than a few hearty chuckles from me that somehow kept me entranced to the film’s dialogue, despite the hinderance of subtitles that I’m not always the biggest fan of. For the dialogue, the film uses authenticity in both the way lines are crafted, but also how Cruz’s character interacts with her on-screen cohorts, fleshing out a three-dimensional power struggle that more than sets the pace for the interchangeable dynamics between them, all the while highlighting their vast differences for how they approach their respective roles. For Banderas’ Felix, he’s a method actor who lives in the moment toward gutting out the emotions he’s continuously called upon, an aspect that Antonio himself unloads on the film with ferocious velocity, while taking advantage of Cruz’s gruff exterior. For Martinez’s Ivan, he’s a traditionalist of the stage whose refusal to throw away perfect moments in rehearsals often makes him a target of opposition for Cruz’s perfectionist director, challenging him in ways that deconstruct decades of preparation for the actor, all in the name of finding a cohesive construct with the character he’s asked to portray. Because of such, the trio each have moments of scene-stealing instances that radiate not only their tangible chemistry towards one another, but also the never-ending supply of charisma they each unload in making every interaction feel necessary in the duration of the near two hour run time. Speaking of necessities, the film also garners with it a technical muscle that flexes just as strongly as its creative one, with a surprising intricacy of sound design and complexity in cinematography to prove that the duo of directors aren’t content to leave all of the glory to the film within a film that we’re watching unfold before our eyes. The former uses headphones and microphones with an immersive entrancement that we immediately recognize, but don’t understand the reasoning to until the scene cuts to another person wearing or speaking into them, and the latter has one of the best uses of mirrors that I’ve ever seen towards enacting a subliminal context over what’s playing out in the life inside of our screen. This often involves big monitors replicating the line reads we’re watching played out in front of us, but in ways that removes much of the deeper meaning and nuance to what we otherwise wouldn’t feel privy towards in watching something for entertainment value. Because we know and understand the stakes that take shape and what went into the scene before it starts recording, we appreciate it further with an extensive knowledge, comparing the two in ways that artistically conveys something deeper playing into every scene or sequence that we watch with limited astonishment. Finally, while the film is strictly dialogue-driven throughout its 110-minute run time, I found the pacing to glide by with fading remarkability, especially in the film’s opening act, which I was immediately invested in. During these initial moments with the characters, we sense an artistic disconnect in each of them, which in turn makes for a more intriguing and gratifying dialect in their conversations that eviscerates the minutes of screen time the longer you’re entranced in it, while cementing the film with a natural quality that is ironic in fictional enveloping’s.
Without question, the biggest problem that the film has resonates in its climactic final twelve minutes, when a heavily dramatic twist suffocates the comedy of the movie’s most endearing quality, leading to a resolution that I didn’t see coming for all of the wrong reasons. Without spoiling much in this section, I will say that this scene comes out of nowhere and feels almost awkwardly hilarious for its sudden spontaneity, especially considering the film’s comedic dominance to that point had us questioning every semblance of reality that we’ve come to interpret. However, the big moment happens, and it almost feels like a betrayal of the characters we came to know about for nearly two hours, resolving the film on a bit of a sour note that not only is difficult to buy from a logical and characterization perspective, but also one that compromises the film’s lighthearted sincerity for a twist that reaches heavily for shock value of the most unsubtle variety. In addition to this, another problem I had with the film, though not as big as the previous one mentioned, is the inescapable repetitious influx of its general outline. This is obviously expected in a film revolving entirely around movie’s productions, but not one that I feel a film this thematically versatile had to rest on its laurels with. For instance, an aforementioned framing device involving the billionaire conceiver of this project is rarely if ever followed through upon. For my money, I would’ve liked more of an input and influence of this pivotal character, especially to break up some of the monotony of the film’s second act, otherwise, why not just have Cruz’s character finance the film to elicit more of the passionate emphasis of this being her dream project?
With its meta-breaking deconstruction on everything from male jealousy to cinematic preparations, “Official Competition” isn’t going to be a sure thing for everyone, but for hardcore film enthusiasts like myself, its sharp wit, revealing insight, and spellbinding filmmaking will be more than enough to lock you in to the occasion. If not, the trio of Banderas, Cruz, and Martinez are simply irresistible, giving the film (Or the film within the film) a recommending nod towards awards considerations.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+