Monday, August 29, 2022

Official Competition – deadpan Cruz toys with bickering Banderas and Martínez (Queen’s Film Theatre until 8 September)

Take three people with very definite but different creative methods. Throw them together to make a vanity project film for an aging tycoon. Sit back and enjoy the battle of wits and the mental and physical fireworks as they spark off each other in Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s film Official Competition.

Celebrating a significant birthday has turned Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) towards thinking about his legacy. A building project might have been a more reliable choice, but he buys up the rights to a book that has impressed him, hires the best director, and insists on a preeminent cast.

Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz wearing a crazy wig) takes on the project, adapting a book about two brothers. She rehearses Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) and Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) in Humberto’s eerily empty brutalist headquarters. Her methods include provoking real emotion in the cast with her hilariously cruel stunts that instil fear and teach the pair about losing autonomy.

Cruz’s deadpan serious delivery wonderfully ratchets up the absurdity. The characters are beautifully observed. Humberto has a childish habit of eating ice cream and is reluctant to interfere with a movie process that he clearly isn’t comfortable with (we can only assume he’s never seen his niece ‘do that’ with a stranger before). Lola illustrates her script with mood boards of fabric, buttons and even breasts, Félix is an older star with young tastes. Image is everything. And Iván’s theatrical mentality and willingness to shun the trappings of celebrity culture totally winds up Félix. Can Lola’s unorthodox methods succeed in uniting the brotherly actors against their common enemy?

There’s a lot of humour – visual and witty dialogue – as the tension mounts towards the inevitable snap when professional jealousy cannot be swallowed any more. Official Competition becomes a beautiful study of what we think of as ‘great’, how tension can be positive, how a director can transform her cast, and leaves you wondering how much of the on-screen rehearsal process was inspired by real events and how much is imagined.

Official Competition is being screened at the Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 8 September.

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