mon 11/12/2023

Official Competition review - satire served cold | reviews, news & interviews

Official Competition review - satire served cold

Official Competition review - satire served cold

Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas fail to engage the emotions in a film industry spoof

No sparks: Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) and Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) in 'Official Competition'Curzon

There are four main protagonists in Official Competition and they all have one thing in common: an overriding ambition to spend more time with their egos.

The first of this quartet is Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez). He is an 80-year-old tycoon with a background in pharmaceuticals, and his form of self-absorption is to look for a project that will secure his immortality. Having first fancied the idea of financing the construction of a major road bridge to be emblazoned with his name, he starts to find civil engineering a tad unglamorous, and another plan starts to take hold. He will put his money into the production of a feature film. Rather than doing something constructive, like reading a book or a script, he simply frets about the prestige of the people who will be involved: “I want the best...” he worries. “Are they the best?”

This decision and this particularly mono-focused form of anguish lead him to the second member of the quartet, film director Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz, pictured below). With her wild frizzed hair and a capricious, autocratic manner, she interprets Suárez’s dream of personal prestige through her own prism, which is no less self-regarding than his.

She has in mind to cast two actors from different areas of the profession, and her way of preparing them for their roles is to treat them as rats in her laboratory, to put them through a series of tests, contests, and (above all) humiliations. It is these preparations for the making of the film, and the honing of the rivalry between its two actors, that comprise Official Competition.

The odd couple are Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), an international star, and Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez), who needs to remind the others of his lifetime of stage experience, and does. The two, naturally, loathe each other.

Actors with the will to send up themselves and their profession bring echoes of Call My Agent/Dix Pour Cent. In the TV series, there were memorable examples of actors setting themelves up for ridicule. Here, however, the Argentinean directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat have done it without a humanising perspective.

Real people with real problems don't get a look-in. And there seem remarkably few time constraints for a cast and crew we assume to be frantically busy. Maybe the fact that filming started before the pandemic and was finished after it has reinforced that feeling of suspended animation.

The air of detachment is amplified by the location. The film is mostly set in a flashy designer house in the countryside (in reality Holm Oak House in San Lorenzo de El Escorial). It lends its own unreality to the story, the house becoming an extra character in its own right. 

Official Competition is being touted as “biting satire”. But herein lies a problem. None of the characters has been drawn to create any empathy, while the script feels bitty, giving us a series of point-proving pay-offs. In interviews, Banderas has been at pains to empathize that there is more or less no correlation between the character Cruz plays in the film and her personality in true life, which feels unhelpful.

There is a message, but it's laid on thick. A Spanish strapline summarizes it: “Poner el arte a competir es atroz” (putting art into competition is appalling). This is a truism, so was there really a need to demonstrate it? Official Competition will probably be remembered as the movie in which Cruz and Banderas were able to work together as proper co-stars for the first time. It can only be hoped there will be more genuine sparks between them in any future collaborations than there are here.


None of the main characters has been drawn to create any empathy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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