Anyone who has attended film festivals – whether as a filmgoer, a critic, or an industry member – will know that there is a certain kind of ‘festival’ film. It certainly varies according to the festival, but for the big ones, especially in Europe – Cannes, Venice, Berlinale, Locarno – there is a certain kind of film one expects to see. Often financed with someone with more money than film knowledge, something serious, intense, often about family or love, made by a critically acclaimed director, starring critically acclaimed actors, a film that ends in the local cinematheque or art house cinemas of major cities, eventually ending up in the Criterion collection or the like. This is not to say these films aren’t good, more to say, we’ve come to expect them.
Enter Official Competition. Well really, it’s right there in the very deliberate title. Written and directed by Argentinian duo Gastón Duprat and Mariono Cohn, it’s a delightful comedic skewering of this kind of ‘high-minded’ festival film, the acting and directing process, and the clash of egos that comes with a film designed to win the Palme d’Or.
Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) is an old and rich man, unsatisfied with his legacy; so he decides the way to leave his final mark on the world (and enjoy the spotlight a bit) is to finance a hit film, the kind that gets seen on the Croisette. He hires an art cinema darling Lola Cuevas to adapt and direct (Penélpe Cruz, channeling something of a combo of Lucrecia Martel and Isabel Coixet); she in turn hires actor’s actor Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and Hollywood star Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), in a story of brothers divided by rivalry and bitterness. On paper, it’s exactly the kind of film that wins accolades for all involved.
That Cuevas’ first meeting with Suárez involves her going into detail of how she will adapt the saga of the warring brother while he eats an enormous Sunday tells you how much he cares (he just wants his name on the thing and the awards prestige). She’s determined to put her method-directing hands on this work in every way; she will find a way for Torres and Rivero, two men diametrically opposed in personality and approach to their craft, to have the necessaru chemistry and devotion to the story. Even if it means having Torres repeat ‘Buenas noches’ a dozen times; even if it means having a giant boulder hanging over their heads (yes, literally).
Duprat and Cohn deftly combine the overt and the subtle in their presentation of this inside story of the festival film. The small touches, the subtle nods – Torres’ ridiculous pretentions, Rivero’s inability to think past her star status, Cuevas’ intense devotion to process. It’s no coincidence that the Argentinian directors have made a film set in Spain, with the Spanish characters often annoyed that Torres has not lost his Argentinean accent (a nod to the frequent collaborations between these countries), or that the story within the film is set in 1970, a golden age in Spanish art house cinema (think Berlanga, Saura, Buñuel’s masterpieces). This is meant to be the standard/height of Spanish cinema, a story that gives the image expected of the nation, proverbial bowing to those in the festival echelons who have set expectations.
This will generate lots of giggles and often big laughs from an audience who is well aware of the ‘result’ this kind of rehearsal is meant to create – just the kind of film they are likely to watch and love. Rivero and Torres cannot find a rhythm, as their intentions are so opposed. Cruz finally gets an rare opportunity to showcase her comedic talents – her complete investment and sincerity with Cuevas, understanding that this woman deserves the accolades while still fighting for recognition, and having to deftly balance the egos of every man around her. Banderas and Martínez are somewhat skewering their own images, but with a tongue-in-cheek delight that reveals how much they also understand this world.
Clocking at almost two hours, the film perhaps slightly overstays its welcome. But with more than a few dark twists and a heart that is laughing at both itself and the world that created it, Official Competition is quite a satire, one that finds its heart of darkness hidden in the absurd reality of high-art cinema.
Official Competition will release in theatres in the USA on June 17th and in Canada on June 24th.
- Mariano Cohn
- Gastón Duprat
- Mariano Cohn
- Andrés Duprat
- Gastón Duprat
- Penélope Cruz
- Antonio Banderas
- Oscar Martínez
ScreenAnarchy – Review: OFFICIAL COMPETITION, Cinema Is Skewered and Satirized
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June 15, 2022