I’ve held a fascination with the magic and art of filmmaking for as long as I can remember, but even more so after my uncle took me to the set of The Garbage Pail Kids when I was young. Of course, no critic would mistake that movie for art, but the craftsmanship of the sets and animatronics were quite wondrous at the time. If we learned anything from that film, it’s that story, acting, and directing are vitally important if you want to make something more than a B-movie (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s Official Competition (Competencia Oficial) is about the artistic side of the craft, focusing primarily on acting and directing. Film buffs like me eat this kind of stuff up, while average moviegoers may be less enthused. The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Cesar is a good measuring stick as to if you will find this fascinating because both films are farces about some of the more extreme and absurd aspects of making a movie.
Written by Cohn, Duprat, and Andrés Duprat, the film starts off with a wealthy businessman named Humberto Suarez (Jose Luis Gomez) pondering his legacy in life. Finally, he settles on the idea that he will produce a film with the “best of the best” involved. He pays a hefty sum in order to secure the movie rights to a Nobel prize-winning novel and hires the eccentric director Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) to steer the ship.
“…big-time star Felix Rivero to play opposite the lesser-known yet highly prestigious actor Ivan Torres will make for riveting dramatic tension.”
Lola decides that hiring big-time star Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) to play opposite the lesser-known yet highly prestigious actor Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez) will make for riveting dramatic tension. She’s absolutely correct, as are the filmmakers on a meta-level. The verbal and non-verbal sparring and one-upmanship between the two great actors is one of the highlights of Official Competition, as they comically reach new heights of pettiness.
The acting trio of Cruz, Banderas, and Martinez is a formidable one, all giving powerhouse performances. Each of them oscillates back and forth between the dramatic and the ridiculous without missing a beat. It feels like it’s been quite some since I’ve seen Banderas in a hefty role such as this, and he delivers. I love the funky freshness Cruz brings to Lola, in everything from her puffed-out hairdo to frantically doing the floss dance. She playfully and manipulatively plays mind games on her two leading men, and it’s a joy to watch. All three actors are virtuosos here, while Cruz is hypnotic with her passion and energy.
Much is made about the ego of Felix, yet each lead character has inflated perceptions of their importance. It’s the fuel for both comedy and drama, playing off of how the public perceives actors and directors. I enjoyed watching Ivan and Felix employ vastly different methods of getting into character, such as eye drops versus real emotions in order to shed tears for a scene. The whole art versus entertainment debate within the film, and on a meta-level, is a blast.
Official Competition is a bit long and could have used some more of the offbeat humor that it excels at. But overall, it’s a worthwhile journey into pulling back the curtain satirically on movie magic.
"…a worthwhile journey into pulling back the curtain satirically on movie magic."