Review: 'Official Competition' a Funny, Shrewd Satire of Filmmaking

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 17, 2022

'Official Competition '
'Official Competition '  (Source:IFC)

Many narrative films lift the curtain behind the scenes of filmmaking and the film industry ("Singin' in the Rain," "The Player," "Hail Caesar"), as well as the craft of acting ("All About Eve," "Birdman"). Excellently acted and sharply written, "Official Competition" is a funny and shrewd satire of filmmaking.

Starring Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martínez, "Official Competition" ("Competencia oficial") is a Spanish-Argentine comedy written and directed by Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn and co-written by Andrés Duprat.

On his 80th birthday, wealthy mogul Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) decides to leave a legacy by producing a film made by the most prestigious film director and actors. Prestige is a motif in the film, including the gossamer perception of what constitutes prestige. (Characters say the word "prestigious" three times within the film's first seven minutes.) He hires filmmaker Lola (Penélope Cruz, always an outstanding actress) to adapt a novel about the rivalry between two brothers.

A critically-acclaimed lesbian film director, Lola asserts idiosyncratic, unconventional methods of directing to elicit authenticity from actors, including bubble wrapping actors together and having them recite lines under a boulder. It's interesting Lola is recommended to producer Humberto Suárez, as, far too often, people only think of male directors as prestigious. A fascinating character, she remains perpetually decisive and unyielding in her vision.

For the film, Lola hires Iván (Oscar Martínez), a critically-acclaimed theater actor who teaches acting classes and is married to a children's book author, and Félix (Antonio Banderas), a global superstar starring in blockbuster movies.

Introducing each character, a modest vehicle drops Iván off, while Félix arrives to rehearsal in an ostentatious orange sports car, kissing a younger woman. Immediately, we witness the dichotomy between the men via their entrances.

Iván's acting philosophy involves contemplating the character's life and motivations. Immersing himself in a role, thinking like a character, fosters the audience to believe it. Félix says the characters aren't real, so he doesn't "need to know my character's past." He believes uttering dialogue with "conviction and authority" conveys believability.

Iván and Félix's burgeoning rivalry as actors parallels the simmering rivalry of the fictitious brothers they portray on screen.

Their rivalry continues with regard to who is the better on-screen kisser. With cleverly changing audio — emulating hearing the rehearsed scene through microphones and headphones — Félix and Iván each kiss their co-star Diana (Irene Escolar), convinced their style will reign supreme. Unconvinced, Lola steps in to show them how it should look, kissing Diana with electric passion they all can see and hear.

The characters remain elusive, despite the actors' complex performances and the amount of information we learn about the characters' lives and their behavior. Yet, that feels intentional. We never truly know the characters, as they perpetually hide behind their art, artifices, and projected personas.

In one of my favorite scenes, the truth pierces through as we witness Lola coming to revelation, conveyed solely through Penelope Cruz's expressive performance, revealing depths with her eyes.

The cinematography by Arnau Valls Colomer contains many facial close-ups along with numerous shots of Lola, Félix, and Iván in mirrors — visually indicating truth, identity, and performativity. When Félix reveals something extremely personal to Lola and Iván in rehearsal, the camera shows a wide shot of the room with Félix small, his face projected, large, onto a screen behind him. This scene visually reifies the concepts of truth and an audience.

In addition to rivalry, gender, and prestige, the film contains commentaries on commerce and art, race and the Oscars, politics and ideologies in film, and how we measure if a film is enjoyable or "good."

"Official Competition" captivatingly wrestles with the idea: Can art — an artificial construct by its very nature of pretend — ever capture the truth? And despite performative elements, can art still reveal deeper truths about humanity? Amidst humor, absurdity, and keen insight, the film asks thought-provoking questions that linger.

"Official Competition" opens in theaters on Friday, June 17, 2022.