Despite the bonhomie of actors at premieres you just know that each one wants to be the standout in any film and Official Competition explores just that. A film about a film it starts with an aging business tycoon wanting to leave a legacy deciding first on building a bridge with his name on it before changing his mind and wanting to finance an award winning film and spends a fortune on a Pulitzer prize winning novel he’s never read before hiring a renowned art house film director Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) a tedious trendy tosspot in terms of the clothes she wears and how she presents herself – you know the type of affected person – the one who wears sunglasses indoors, sits cross legged on a chair smoking Gitannes cigarettes spouting nonsense yet think that erudite is a glue.
It’s Lola who has to tell him what the book is about explaining that it’s about two competitive brothers estranged after he younger one accidently kills their parents in a drink driving fatality. The older brother calls police and his brother serves time before they eventually reconcile. But that’s not what Official Competition is about. For the two leads Lola hires Felix (Antonio Banderas) and Ivan (Oscar Martinez) could not be more different as can be seen when the womanizer Felix arrives in a high end sports car driven by a beautiful blonde whereas Oscar has been happily married for 28 years to his second wife. Felix has had huge success with awards and financially remunerated far beyond his talent. Oscar is appalled by what he regards as a selling out of the profession he takes so seriously and lectures students about the craft. They are very much the odd couple of acting and play off each others insecurities brilliantly as they meet in a cavernous minimalist atrocity of a building for nine days of increasingly acrimonious rehearsal.
Lola only makes it worse for the actors messing with their minds getting them to say lines or more precisely two word phrases over and over for imperceptible nuance and then plays humiliating games with them that include the pair verbally abusing each other or the truly bizarre by getting them to rehearse a scene whilst sat under a 5 tonne rock suspended above them.
Directed and co-written by Mariano Cohn & Gaston Duprat there’s a feeling that the pair are exorcising some demons past here with what is a gleefully satirical dissection of the acting process. The trio revel in their roles with Banderas especially sending himself up and the joy of the film is a powerhouse of three great performances. It is an enormously satisfying and often very funny shredding of actors and directors both pompous, shallow, pretentious and ultimately self-absorbed with the official competition being between the two characters in an immensely enjoyable film
Here’s the Official Competition trailer…….