As long as there have been movies, there have been movies about making movies. Some are serious, some are silly; some are dark, some are light. One thing most have in common is that they always seem to bring those involved that particularly satisfying form of glee that comes from casting a critical light on something you have a complex relationship with. All of that is in play in Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s sharp showbiz satire Official Competition.
The story begins with wealthy businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) deciding that the best legacy he can leave behind when his time comes is a film — preferably one that wins accolades and awards. He uses his vast resources to buy the rights to a celebrated novel about two brothers in conflict and enlist passionate, artistic director Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) to bring it to the big screen. Lola, in turn, hires two well-known actors to play the brothers: respected thespian Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and box-office darling Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas).
The two men couldn’t be more different: Iván ostentatiously eschews the trappings of fame, taking a holier-than-thou stance on the art and artifice of acting, while Félix is all about being a celebrity and catering to the masses. They come into conflict almost immediately, each confident that his way is the right way to be an actor. Lola makes it her job to bring them both down a peg or four, putting them through demanding rehearsals and exercises designed to push them up to (and perhaps past) their breaking points. She holds them in thrall with her unconventional methods, even as the plot’s twists threaten her ambitions.
It’s a powerhouse performance by Cruz, who clearly revels in playing a filmmaker who’s so sure of her status as an auteur that she’ll spend seven hours choosing fabric for the on-set sofa if it means that her vision will be executed precisely. Both Martinez and Banderas also seem to be having a ball with their parts, skewering both actors who take themselves too seriously and those who don’t take anything seriously. But, ultimately, Lola is in charge, and both Iván and Félix know it. And Cruz makes sure that viewers know it, too. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Pam Grady: Three ginormous egos come together to make a film in this slyly funny Spanish/Argentinean sendup of moviemaking. An octogenarian billionaire obsessed with legacy purchases a Nobel prize-winning novel and hires hotshot auteur Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) to adapt and direct the film he plans to produce. She, in turn, hires as her leads Ivan (Oscar Martinez), a Method-steeped stage actor and teacher, and Felix (Antonio Banderas), who could be the love child of Tom Cruise and Jean-Claude Van Damme, a womanizing international star coasting on his looks and charm. Lola is less director than dictator in putting her actors through their paces during pre-production rehearsals and she is not above playing cruel, manipulative tricks to achieve her goals. Ivan and Felix are so different in life experience, artistic process, and level of success that the only thing they really have in common is mutual contempt. It is, indeed, a rocky road to Cannes in this knowing wink of a dramedy. Co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat cast their film well. The three leads are clearly having a ball, delivering entrancing performances as outsized as their characters’ personalities.
Nell Minow: Official Competition is s sly delight, knowing, telling, and often scabrously funny look at the egos, the pretentious, and the chaos that underlies not just movie-making but just about any ambitious endeavor. The settings, editing, and the sound design are as witty as the script and the performances are deliciously savage.
Sherin Nicole Official Competition gives Penélope Cruz ample spotlight to embody the trope of a “difficult woman” while flipping the archetype in defiance of its negative connotations. What begins as an absurdist character study, with a behind-the-scenes view of filmmaking, soon swerves into a discomfiting battle of egos versus art. As the auteur director of Rivals—the embedded film inside the film—Cruz slyly pits a pair of egomaniacal actors (Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez) against each other to enhance their realism on screen. Her mission is accomplished but perhaps the plan works too well in this satirical bonfire of hubris.
Marilyn Ferdinand The film community loves nothing more than gazing upon itself. Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s droll comedy, Official Competition, makes that narcissism literal with a galaxy of mirrors in most scenes reflecting the all-star cast of Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martínez back at themselves. Cruz plays director and film festival darling Lola Cuevas who has cast actors with decidedly different viewpoints on their craft in her latest film—acting snob Iván Torres (Martínez) and mainstream Hollywood idol Félix Rivero (Banderas). The trio is rehearsing an adaptation of a novel by a Nobel Prize winner commissioned by a pharmaceutical mogul (the magnificent José Luis Gómez) who wants to leave a lasting legacy behind him. The rivalry between the popular and pretentious actors, as well as the psychologically obscure exercises Lola puts them through (the experiment with sound is a telling and hilarious gag) make this comedy both knowing for cinephiles and accessible for the average film fan. I especially enjoyed how Cruz plays with the image created for her in so many of her collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar.
Leslie Combemale I found this film riveting from the beginning, not least because of Penelope Cruz’s specificity and aggressive flair as funky auteur director Lola Cuevas. Is it a coincidence she has a head of curly hair worthy of its own zip code that calls quirky female filmmaker Alma Har’el of Honey Boy fame to mind? It’s miraculous Cruz doesn’t fall into caricature, but she finds that line just short of it to keep her portrayal anchored in reality. As ridiculous as the lead characters are that Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez play, it’s easy enough to believe there are actors out there, self-important, riddled with insecurity, and needing to win at all costs. I didn’t see a few things in the plot coming, although the tight script keeps you poised for all sorts of manmade disasters. These are not, it’s fair to say, nice people, but audiences will enjoy them no less for it.
Jennifer Merin Official Competition a thoroughly engaging spoofy send up dramady/thriller about the serious absurdity of moviemaking and show biz. The twisty tale is is anchored by Penelope Cruz’s brilliant performance as a whip smart and appealingly assertive female film director who casts rival actors (played Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez who are a superb sparring duo) in a two hander, and hands them a hard time while they try to one up one another. And the great Jose Luis Gomez, now 83, is spot on as the clueless producer who just wants his name on a terrific film so people will remember him as someone who mattered. The sheer absurdity of the plot and the characters’ egocentric behavior will leave you aghast and laughing…down to the very last wink.
Loren King Movies about moviemaking are generally great fun and Official Competition from Argentine directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn is not exception with plenty of winks, jabs and in-jokes about the world of pretentious filmmaking and egocentric artists. Best of all, it’s got Penelope Cruz as lauded artsy director Lola Cuevas who’s been charged to helm the vanity project of billionaire businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) after he pays a small fortune for the rights to an award winning book that he hasn’t read. Lola casts Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), a somewhat clueless, self-centered, international movie star and Ivan Torres (Oscar Martínez), a well-regarded but equally full-of-himself stage actor, to play warring brothers in the movie. Lola insists on a ridiculously exacting rehearsal period that brings out the rivalry, competitiveness, and insecurities of the two stars. Cruz, with her cascading curls, hipster eyeglasses and eccentric outfits, has a ball with the high-minded, driven Lola as she pushes her actors to increasingly absurd degrees. It’s a real treat to watch Cruz and Banderas, who starred in but didn’t share screen time in the memorable Pain and Glory in 2019, banter and bicker and engage in physical comedy. They’re pros spoofing pros and enjoying every minute of it.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Official Competition is a brilliantly performed and wickedly funny film about filmmaking from Argentinian writer-directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn. Starring Spanish actors Penélope Cruz as an arthouse auteur commissioned by a pharmaceutical billionaire to direct any movie she pleases as long as it’s the best. She hires two actors from different worlds – one an international movie star (Antonio Banderas) and the other a serious theatre actor and acting coach (Oscar Martinez). The filmmakers poke fun at the industry and the egomaniacs who inhabit it with a sharp wit that’s perfectly conveyed by the trio of fabulous actors. Although the directors are men, the movie itself centers on a woman filmmaker, and Cruz’s performance is one of her most memorable.
Liz Whittemore Turning a Nobel Prize-winning novel into a movie on the whim of a millionaire, “it” director Lola Cuevas pairs two different kinds of actors to breathe life into her version of the story. What could go wrong casting a serious leading actor with a box office action star? Only everything, of course. If you’ve ever been through the rehearsal process with a director that is secure in their vision, Official Competition is for you. The film is a masterclass in writing and acting. It encompasses all the temperamental moments in the history of cinematic genius. Read full review.
Cate Marquis A wealthy businessman, who has just turned 80, casts about for a big project to ensure he’ll be remembered, something lasting. Maybe a bridge designed by a renowned architect, with his name on it? No, better – a movie! A great movie, with a big-name director and famous actors. It is our first tip-off that the Spanish-language Official Competition is a comedy. Penelope Cruz plays the director, while Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez play the famous actors, one an acclaimed actor’s actor, the other a wildly popular movie star. They are going to play battling brothers but the stage is set for other battles. What happens next? You’ll have to watch this twisty, satiric, head-spinning dark comedy to find out.
Title: Official Competition
Directors: Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat
Principal Characters: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martinez
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Running Time: 114 minutes
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Screenwriters: Mariano Cohn, Andrés Duprat, Gastón Duprat
Distribution Company: IFC Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin