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Official Competition ★★



Director: Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martinez

Release: August 26, 2022 (UK)

Directed by Argentinean filmmakers Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, Official Competition (OV: Competencia Oficial) stars Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez in a comedy revolving around a temperamental film production. Eccentric director Lola Cuevas (Cruz) is hired by aged millionaire Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) to direct a film adaptation of an award-winning novel. Lola insists that the two ‘best’ actors be cast in the lead roles: stage actor Iván Torres (Martinez) and celebrity actor Félix Rivero (Banderas).

From the outset, Official Competition evokes a sense of uneasiness. It is one thing to have a millionaire wanting to finance a film purely to ensure a legacy, but what would happen if three different creative styles were to become part of one production? With the experimental Lola, classical Ivan, and arrogant Felix at the root of the film, the combination of all three immediately spells disaster, with their egos threatening the production before the cameras start rolling.

Through its screenplay and production design, Official Competition becomes lost in the growing pretension of its characters, so it slowly unveils their superficiality. Ivan promotes a grounded and classical method of acting. Still, he quietly shares the same arrogance and haughtiness as his director and co-star, shown through an imaginary award acceptance speech – an idea he previously scoffed at. Meanwhile, Felix is a superficial diva and douche who seems to act for the fame and accolades. With Lola’s direction (and subsequently that of Duprat and Cohn) seeing them mostly face off each other, the tension between the actors trying to prove that they are the better actor comes across as childish at times, especially as neither are willing to learn from or collaborate with each other. Combined with a confined sense of intimacy, especially in a very spacious environment, their relationship becomes a ticking clock as to who will break first.

In a quirky performance by Cruz, Lola feeds their competitive nature under the guise of grounding their egos through her perfectionist nature and unorthodox methods, such as a huge rock and a metal grinder. Meanwhile, her cold-hearted nature stunts her emotionality – especially as a seemingly tender moment exposes her humanity and a chink in her armour. Although these scenes deliver some of the film’s lighter moments, enhanced by Banderas and Martinez’s entertaining chemistry, these are too short to be fully appreciated by audiences.

Unfortunately, their ongoing tensions ultimately dominate the narrative with little deviation, so the tone mostly becomes monotone. By the time the film reaches an unexpected climax, any empathy for their endeavour becomes lost, and Official Competition becomes a flat satire, despite the actors’ best efforts.

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