Tribeca Festival Spotlight Narrative Section
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat
Writer: Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/3/22
Opens: June 14th, 2022
It’s usually true that having more than one big personality in any sort of partnership or group can be difficult. Opposites often attract, but then there are those cases where people who are all too alike end up together either in work or life, and there just isn’t enough space for both of them. In the case of moviemaking, two stars whose egos are impossibly large may have trouble getting along and may cause misery for the rest of their cast and crew, and there are also filmmakers who have their own process that may be incongruous with others on the production. Having all three can be a recipe for disaster, or, in Official Competition, a delightfully entertaining premise.
Businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) is eager to ensure that he has a good legacy as he takes stock of his life, and he decides that he will commission a movie. His first step is to hire the eccentric Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) as his director. Next up are the film’s two stars, Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), a ham who is all about the awards and the glory, and Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez), an accomplished stage actor with his own reputation of elitism. As the three begin to collaborate, it becomes abundantly clear that they’re all a lot to take, and working together to actually create this movie is going to be a serious challenge.
Official Competition is clearly meant to be a send-up of those who have ridiculous demands for how they are treated on sets and whose processes must be laughed at because they couldn’t possibly be taken at face value. But it’s also an indictment of excess in all forms, showing how the pursuit of true art is often married by a desire to go against the grain in a way that doesn’t feel at all productive or conductive to the creation of something tangible and effective for an audience. Seeing these three egos collide is a blast, though it’s often just as uncomfortable as it is funny.
The casting of Cruz may be the best asset of this already terrific film. Honored recently with an Oscar nomination for her more subdued turn in Parallel Mothers, Cruz here hews closer to her Oscar-winning role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, dialing up her wild energy to an entirely new level. At no point is she making fun of herself, as is often the case in her American roles, but instead she’s doing a marvelous impression of an on-set tyrant who insists on going to lavish lengths to inspire her actors, and early on insists that they repeat their lines numerous times in a row so that she can hear it a certain way before outright terrorizing them to draw out their true passion. It’s the most outrageous form of self-confidence, one that involves reliance only on her own perspective, and Cruz plays it exceptionally well.
Banderas, an international star who always manages to make his roles feel fresh even when they might be similar to others he’s played in the past, is well-paired with Martinez, a talented Argentinean actor. They do a remarkably job of channeling cockiness with a lived experience, one that they believe legitimizes how they act and how they treat others, and which suffer a severe below when they are forced to contend with the tyrannical and unpredictable Lola. It’s a marvel to watch all three of them and see how they engage with this material. Official Competition, from directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn and screenwriter Jaume Roures, is bursting with color and spectacular production design that perfectly complements the talent on screen. This film is both a delight and a thought-provoking takedown of an industry that often thinks too highly of itself, and it functions fantastically on both levels.
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-