Chosen for the opening night of this year’s Spanish Film Festival, Official Competition is an outrageous, biting, sexy, take-no-prisoners, comedic look at the film industry itself.
Bored millionaire Humberto (José Luis Gómez) decides to celebrate his 80th birthday by producing a film. He buys the rights to a Nobel-winning novel that he has never read, and hands the project over to brilliant, eccentric director, Lola Cuevas. She in turn decides to cast two very different actors to play the brothers who are at the heart of the story. Félix Rivero is a hugely popular screen actor, living the movie-star lifestyle. Iván Torres is a the classic tortured theatre-actor, who eschews anything that smacks of commercialism. This combination is a recipe for artistic genius, or disaster…or possibly both.
Penelope Cruz (Cuevas), Antonio Banderas (Rivero) and Oscar Martinez (Torres) revel in what is basically a three-hander. Mariono Cohn, Gastón Duprat, and co-writer Andrés Duprat have shaped a screenplay that is a gift to the actors. Pulling in various film and theatre tropes, it is especially hilarious to anyone who has worked in either industry. Yet it is also highly comedic to the general audience, as it bases itself firmly in character. These three actors have to carry an entire film almost solely and manage to fill the screen yet remain subtle.
Directors Cohn and Duprat last co-directed on The Distinguished Citizen, which also starred Martinez, and they clearly know how to work as a team to create cinematic magic. They allow the actors space in which to play, both metaphorically, and physically. Most of the action is set in an empty arts centre which Humberto has build, but which is yet to be used. Rehearsals take place amongst brutalist concrete walls and grey-carpeted floors. Alain Bainée has done an extraordinary job on production design.
Official Competition is a work of comic genius, which also explores questions of artistic talent and ego, of high-art v popular culture, and of the frustrations of collaborative creativity. Above all, it is consistently hilarious, never lagging for a second. This is the perfect vehicle to showcase Cruz’s often underused comedic talent, whilst remaining a seamless ensemble piece.
Official Competition screens as part of the Moro Spanish Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend.
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