Official Competition (2021)
Directors: Gastón Duprat, Mariano Cohn
Screenwriters: Gastón Duprat, Andrés Duprat, Mariano Cohn
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez
Continuing his late career resurgence, thanks in no small part to Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, Antonio Banderas stars alongside Penélope Cruz and Oscar Martínez in the Spanish dark comedy Official Competition.
Millionaire Humberto Suárez, hoping to improve his public image, decides to finance a movie. Not just any movie, a great movie. To do so he takes on eccentric director Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) and two of Spain’s top actors, prestigious stage actor Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and egocentric worldwide star Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas). Taking place in a gorgeous yet ridiculously huge mansion, the entire film has a great look to it, helped by the cinematography of Arnau Valls Colomer. This is one of those films in which everything is always framed perfectly for a good joke.
The movie gets off to a hilarious start with the cast’s first rehearsal, with Iván unable to get past the first line of dialogue, “buenas noches”, because Lola claims it just isn’t right – “once more” Lola demands. Martinez repeats the line over and over again until finally Lola is happy with his reading. It is a thoroughly entertaining scene that sets up not only the central characters but the whole movie in many ways. Lola, putting the actors through eccentric and seemingly meaningless tasks to ensure the best performances; Iván, sure of his abilities, feels as though he is better than this; Félix smugly watches on as his co-star (and rival) squirms underneath the unconventional practices of their director. It is through this three-way relationship that Official Competition builds tension, making for some excellent drama and genuine hilarity.
Directors Duprat and Cohn use these characters, their relationships, and the situations they get themselves into, in order to emphasize how ridiculous the film industry is, and to satirise it without mercy. Particularly, the film focuses on the honesty of the industry; what is true and what is deceit? What is fake and what is real? It is an excellent subject to focus on. And better yet, in spite of drilling distrust into each of us, directors Duprat and Cohn continue to convince us that everything we are seeing and hearing is true. Then, just when we are certain of it, the movie cracks a joke and laughs in our faces for being so gullible.
Despite how it may lean more obviously towards jokes and punchlines, Official Competition is actually a very interesting area of study so far as the authenticity of actors goes. When actors are in front of the camera, how much of their character is a character and how much is them? Outside of their work, how kind are they, how kind are they pretending to be? It is an interesting series of questions, especially months after Will Smith’s very public unravelling at the 2022 Oscars.
Although the subject matter and the fact it is an international film may seem to cater more to hardcore film fans, the involvement of mainstream stars like Banderas and Cruz, as well as the belly laugh comedy of the film, make it a thoroughly enjoyable movie that could appeal to all.
Official Competition is an exciting new comedy coming out of Spain, the type of comedy we don’t seem to get anymore from the UK or Hollywood; a much needed breath of fresh air that is sure to keep you laughing until the credits roll.