Film industry

“Official Competition” review: There’s no mercy for the film industry’s madness in this sharp satire

Film critic

In “Official Competition”, Argentinian directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, with their long-time collaborator, screenwriter Andrés Duprat, bring cinematic culture back to life in this tragicomic dissection of the way, or rather the ways, of artist. Legendary Spanish stars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas team up with Duprat, Cohn and Argentine star Oscar Martínez to embody the different strains of pretentiousness that permeate the film industry and the combustion that occurs when the three are thrown into a situation together. high pressure.

This cinematic satire starts with money, of course. An aging pharmaceutical mogul, Humberto Suárez (José Luis Goméz) turns 80 and begins to reflect on his legacy, pondering what to put his name to. Not a building, not a bridge, but a movie, a good one. So he hires a critically acclaimed filmmaker and Palme d’Or winner, the eccentric Lola Cuevas (Cruz) and buys the rights to a Nobel Prize-winning novel called “Rivalry,” despite not knowing not both Lola’s work and the content of the book. Nonetheless, he sets her up in the empty building of his charitable foundation, a huge maze of brutal modern architecture, and whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

What she wants is to associate a prestigious and respected actor and theater teacher, Iván Torres (Martínez), with one of the country’s biggest stars, Félix Rivero (Banderas), pitting them against each other in a free adaptation of the novel about a lifelong rivalry between two brothers. She has scheduled nine days of rehearsal behind closed doors, during which she subjects Iván and Félix to a series of increasingly absurd “exercises” intended to “transform” them, in hopes of shattering their egos. Lola’s ironic, artistic pretension clashes with Iván’s super-serious reverence for his craft and code of ethics, which then clashes with Félix’s diva-like behavior and demands. We don’t know who will emerge from this situation intact, but what a joy to see an extravagantly wigged Cruz torturing these two men, while the three bicker and manipulate while seeking a bit of artistic transcendence.

“Official Competition” makes a statement about the state of the film industry, with deep-pocketed investors looking for something that’s “the best” without having a clue what that actually means. Lola eliminates this notion, separating the notions of “quality” and “likeability”, especially when talking about her work. But she’s also an empathetic person, and despite her big personality, she feels deeply for her collaborators, despite, or perhaps because of, the intimate artistic roller coaster she’s built for them.

The building itself becomes a character in the film, captured in thoughtful compositions by cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer. The filmmakers use depth of field beautifully – there’s a humor to how the characters have to walk through those cavernous empty spaces, or the shapes and combinations they’re placed in. More so, it’s almost as if space itself drives their madness, and it plays a key role in some of the film’s most dramatic turns.

The plot follows the meta-rivalry between the two men who jockey to be the best actor, but at the heart of the smart and sharp “official competition” is the question of what makes art “good”, as well as the futility of applying such a banal label to something that can be moving, transporting or stimulating. Ultimately, the movie argues that “the best” could be something quite soulless, even dangerous. This epiphany rocks Lola and should make audiences question the value of putting art and artists in competition with each other, a lesson to take to heart each year as awards season approaches. even if this one will probably be in contention, and perhaps even in competition.

“Official competition” ★★★½ (out of four)

With Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martinez. Directed by Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn. 114 minutes. Rated R for language and some nudity. In Spanish, with subtitles. Opens July 1 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian.