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Geek Review: Official Competition

Can anything get more meta or more wink-wink-nudge insider-comedy than this?

For one thing, this funny, quirky Spanish film, Official Competition, actually competed in the official competition at the Venice Film Festival last year. 

Stop us if you’ve heard this before – a filthy rich old guy wants to make an instant “great” movie with a “great” director, along with two of the world’s best actors he can hire. This billionaire businessman-turned-wannabe producer, Humberto Suarez (Jose Luiz Gomez), gets this genius inspiration to do something memorable as his lasting legacy after an unsatisfactory 80th birthday bash leaves him with a big sad unfulfilled hole. 

One wonders if this is somehow how Harvey Weinstein started his movie mogul career too? Nah, no way.

Because there’s a very demanding, queer and eccentric woman in charge here who would likely terrify Harv the Perv right off his sexist bones. Penelope Cruz plays a brash, ultra-control-freak movie director, Lola Cuevas, who’s so avant-garde rad, she enjoys crushing male gonads via her extreme lab-theatre methods, in rehearsal after rehearsal of hilarious unrelenting sadomasochistic torture.

So, basically, you can say that this is a show about the comically cruel rehearsals behind the making of a cruelly bad movie, cooked up within a good, fun-to-watch actual flick. Okay, something like that.  

official competition

Anyhow, Lola is searching and destroying to pry open the “truth” in acting here. This entails humiliating her two very seasoned, ego-filled, award-winning actors, by making them go back to acting kindergarten in repeating simple lines in different ways until she’s happy; insult each other’s mothers to their faces; and wrapping them up together like mummies in inescapable cellophane to suffer in, some sort of abject bonding. And, oh, she also dangles a huge rock precariously over the pair to force out their emotive best, as though they’re in a surreal Salvador Dali painting. 

It’s hysterical if you’ve ever wondered about being in a literal arthouse-nuthouse. 

Case in point – Lola prefers to reach absolute sexual authenticity by hearing the sound of passionate kissing through an insane collection of microphones, instead of merely seeing it. And when she tells you to bring your beloved awards and prized trophies to the set, make sure you hide them like buried treasure because she’s not going to admire them. Man, it’s the funniest instance of a Golden Globe wipeout that anyone will ever see.

official competition

Adding to the absurdity is that the two bewildered acting veterans/guinea pigs she’s whipping into shape with her artistic tyranny, to I-want-to-kill-her levels, are polar-opposites from different acting schools. Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) is a popular global star (meaning: pretentious shallow sell-out) with a sycophantic assistant in tow, while Ivan Torres (Argentine actor Oscar Martinez) is a renowned theatre master (meaning: severely aloof thespian) who’s such a nihilistic purist, he conducts his own acting lessons and inwardly views co-star Felix with predictable snooty contempt.   

The would-be smash-hit GOAT film they’re all employed to make for every blatantly wrong reasons is a soap-operatic Latin saga, Rivalry, about two estranged, acutely dissimilar brothers who are also in direct contrast to, and in dramatic conflict with one another. But to a much grimmer consequence.

“I’m interested in that tension,” Lola tells her clueless film-newbie financial backer-employer. But to the real filmmakers here – Argentinian writer-director duo Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn – that nutty tension is the springboard to an absurdist comedy that’s part-satire, part-farce, part-industry joke. It leads to an eventual expose of a certain human weakness that, unfortunately, while being quite good as an end point, seems just a tad too contrived. Yes, even for a plot that’s already so clearly worked out here for an actual official competition in the real film world. 

official competition

We won’t reveal the fun which we didn’t see coming, which is also a good thing, but we will say this – when you’re deep-mining the very core of “truth in acting” here to such a mad over-dug extent, it can overtake the miners themselves and bring them to a place of lies nobody wishes to go.

Banderas’s Felix Rivero, who’s more glam star than true actor, is a slimeball of likeability. He faces a formidable partner and rival in Martinez’s Ivan Torres who matches him in latent superiority. It’s very amusing to see the two of them do the Dance Of Wonder, trying to outdo each other in sizing up whether anything they say to each other is actually truthful.  

But here are the two main things about this enjoyable Official Competition. 

The first is that Penelope Cruz actually looks better as she grows older, especially when the 48-year-old dons a giant frizzly red mane as the brainy, but loopy, head of the troublesome trio, which makes her look like a Foxy Kooky Mama Lioness.  

official competition

Secondly, she’s also getting more interesting as she, er, ages because she commands the scenes in this film so effectively as an authoritarian channeling her inner Lars von Trier, just like the way she commanded the scenes in her previous excellent film, Parallel Mothers, as an effective humanitarian. 

Spanish films often take a leftfield turn into insightful unpredictability, and to be brought along the trip by the fearless Cruz is truly quite a pleasure. Over here, she is amply aided in her dictatorial directorial air by the movie’s setting of white-walled museum-style minimalism that looks like the lair of a very neat, radical, primarily deranged James Bond villain. 

It allows Cruz to look very nicely composed.

Despite the funny decomposition of – nope, not method acting – but the method of acting all around her.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

If you’ve ever thought that the film industry was a little nuts, Official Competition gleefully shows how right but woefully inadequate an assessment that is.

Overall
8.1/10
8.1/10
  • Story - 8/10
    8/10
  • Direction - 8/10
    8/10
  • Characterisation - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8/10
    8/10


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