Film Review: Official Competition
Directors: Gastón Duprat, Mariano Cohn
The Mediapro Studio
In Theaters 07.01
Films about making films too often feel as if they are made purely for the amusement of industry insiders or wannabe insiders. A small handful of films over the years has managed to rise above the pitfalls of the genre, and the Spanish-Argentinian comedy Official Competition adds another potential classic to that list.
Official Competition begins with a billionaire entrepreneur, Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez, Pascual Duarte) deciding that privately funding a film that will stand as one of the all-time greats is the best way to make certain he leaves a tangible, lasting legacy. Suárez hires celebrated filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) to direct and secures the rights to a Nobel Prize–winning novel called Rivalry. Now, the only thing the movie needs is top-level stars. Lola hires Hollywood heartthrob Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) and avant-garde theater icon Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez, I Miss You, The Distinguished Citizen). Though the philosophies and styles of Félix and Iván may be vastly different, these volatile and egotistical artists are two sides of the same coin. As Lola’s eccentric and obsessive approach to her art buries both men in an endless series of unorthodox acting exercises, pre-production on Rivalry becomes a battle of one-upmanship while each man becomes more determined to prove himself as the better actor.
Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn (The Man Next Door, The Distinguished Citizen) direct from a script they co-wrote with Andrés Duprat, and their understated, masterful style keeps Official Competition from spinning out of control. The small scale and emphasis on smart, organic humor is refreshing, and Official Competitionf never feels like the kid self-indulgent “let’s lambaste Hollywood and all of its excesses while reveling in them” trainwreck that we saw mere months ago with Judd Apatow‘s The Bubble. While there’s no question that Duprat and Cohn have made a film that will play best to those with an artistic background, the audience isn’t being asked to play a guessing game of which movie or Hollywood icon is being lampooned at any given moment (such as in films like, say, Tropic Thunder). The laughs and insights come from more widely relatable themes of toxic male egos, pretentious behavior and artistic temperament, and anyone who has performed on any level should be able to find something to sympathize with here.
More than once I was reminded of Christopher Guest‘s masterpiece Waiting for Guffman, though these characters are relatively much more accomplished at their craft. As Guffman invites anyone who has ever done an amatuer community production to watch and see themselves or people they know reflected, Official Competition does so for those who have seriously studied or tried to pursue a career in the arts.
Banderas and Martinez are marvelous, playing characters who have spent their entire lives playing characters, whether it’s the roles that they play or the careful personas they have created. Where Félix treasures every award he’s ever received and yearns for an Oscar, Iván is so in love with his reputation for being above such things that he gleefully practices his “I can’t accept this award, it cheapens the artform” speech in front of a mirror just in case he gets to use it. The real-life actors who embody these on-screen actors are both given moments to showcase their dramatic chops and then abruptly shift gears into a well-earned chuckle, and the chemistry between them is electrifying. Cruz has never been better as a comic actress, and Lola Cuevas has the potential to become a truly iconic character. Official Competition is at times genuinely hilarious, yet Duprat and Cohn are more interested in a smile that’s rooted in reality than a belly laugh contrived or cheap.
I’m not saying that Official Competition can’t be called a niche movie or genre work. It is not, however, a gimmick movie. Official Competition is a clever and engaging comedy I can easily see becoming a beloved favorite among the target audience of cinephiles, as well as the creative and artistic. –Patrick Gibbs