The 80-year-old, Mr Burns-like businessman Humberto (José Luis Gómez), with his own Smithers nearby, discusses what legacy he should leave behind. He settles on producing a movie. But not just any movie: a movie with a good director! And well-known actors! For a satire, Cohn and Duprat’s deliberately gradual style is a worrying sign. Will Official Competition, starring the never-boring likes of Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, grow into a two-hour slog?
But such anxieties are assuaged early on: in a golden moment that clicks the film perfectly into place.
Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez as Félix and Iván. Photo: Curzon
Two actors have been cast for Humberto’s film by its maverick, Palme d’Or-winning director Lola (Cruz). The snobbish, anti-materialistic stage actor Iván (a solemn Oscar Martínez) arrives at the rehearsal space first, by taxi. The cab leaves, and an expensive car vrooms into frame. The bright and shining vehicle carries a young blonde woman and Iván’s co-star Félix (Banderas), a globally famous celebrity with no academic approach to his craft. It’s an excellently connective contrast, one that only grows funnier as the film continues.
And although Martínez bears wonderfully the intellectual burdens of his character and Cruz gives a thrilling crackpot performance as an established auteur, it’s Banderas who carries the bulk of the film’s comedy. Seeing him as prissy and self-important brings to mind the infectiously enjoyable mockery in Extras and Call My Agent!. There’s also a liberating charm when Félix dispels any notion that he does anything except ‘study the words and say them with conviction and authority’ – mocking Iván’s Stanislavskian methods.
Lola puts her actors through a surreal process, playing out like improv on a Hollywood budget. She wraps and traps them in strong clingfilm, makes them perform under a five-tonne boulder held by a crane, and all of them snog Humberto’s daughter under about 20 microphones. (The last one is impossible to decode.) There’s an aloof, adventurous, Alice In Wonderland atmosphere to these meaningless methods, suiting the strangely curvy and abnormally large building in which the action takes place.
The script lacks a certain Pythonesque pace that might’ve boosted the comedy (the film is at least 15 minutes too long). But at times, it’s enough to stare in amused awe at the sheer absurdity of what's happening. It can be provocative, too, when esteemed awards head for destruction.
Official Competition flaunts a seductive chaos: funny, frustrating, and occasionally dispiriting. The coldness of the characters and their narcissism can be too much; sometimes you can’t believe actual human hearts and minds occupy the bodies of these characters. But the near-compassionate love-hate relationship between Iván and Félix offers rare warmth in an otherwise egotistic business of making movies.
Official Competition is in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema now.
|What||Official Competition review|
26 Aug 22 – 26 Aug 23, IN CINEMAS / ON CURZON HOME CINEMA
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|