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September 12, 2022


written by: Andrés Duprat, Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat
produced by: Jaume Roures
directed by: Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat
rated: R (for language and some nudity)
runtime: 115 min.
U.S. release date: June 12, 2022 (Tribeca Film Festival) and June 17, 2022 (limited)


Movies about movies are at their best when they shine a satirical light on all the insanity that can involve actors and directors and their sometimes ridiculous and specific requirements. That’s what the Spanish comedy “Official Competition” leans into and it winds up being one of the more refreshing and hilarious comedies of the year. Co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat, the feature has a sly and witty sense of humor about it, while focusing on the egos and insecurities of artists. The three main actors are having tremendous fun, exhibiting brilliant comic timing and clearly losing themselves in fun roles as predominately insufferable individuals that ultimately cannot work together as they near the start of production on a new film.

The movie opens with the introduction of Humberto Suárez (Jose Luis Gomez), who finds himself restless as he turns 80, realizing there is more time behind him then there is in front of him. Concerned with his legacy and wanting to be remembered for more than just his money, he decides to pass on having a costly bridge built named after him and instead produce a blockbuster movie out of a critically-acclaimed novel.



Humberto purchases the rights to a best-selling novel called Rivalry and signs on an eccentric director, Lol (Penelope Cruz), to helm an adaptation. While Lola hasn’t had a hit in a while, everyone involved is hoping this will be a lucrative comeback, including herself. The crucial part is in casting who will play the two brothers who are at odds with each other. Lola winds up getting two established stars in the own right – Felix (Antonio Banderas) for his big-studio filmography and Ivan (Oscar Martinez) known mostly for his award-winning theater work – in an unlikely pairing that produces its own real-life rivalry. There’s no hiding how much disdain the two actors has for each other. As rehearsal begins, Lola involves them in psychological games to get her desired results, but her peculiar mental demands and emotional exercises place the actors in uncomfortable positions which challenges the entire and jeopardizes the pre-production leading into shooting the film.

The tone of “Official Competition” is established early on when we meet Humberto. He is surrounded by those who’ve brought him luxurious gifts for his birthday, none of which pique his interest. It’s humorous to think just because he has the money to throw at a movie production, that the project will be a critical and financial success. Clearly, the pharmaceutical giant doesn’t know much about movies, trusting the supposed assured hand of an award-winning director to carry his vision. The whole thing somewhat resembles an updated version of “The Producers” by Mel Brooks, with Humberto not accounting for all of the talent’s eccentricities.



Cohn and Duprat (who co-wrote the screenplay Andrés Duprat) approach the material with a noticeably fun sense of humor, while exploring the nuances of the three main characters, the director and the two lead actors. The two actors initial pleasantries at the start of rehearsal gradually transforms into passive-aggressive actions that inevitably disrupt the future of the project. Banderas’ Felix was hired due to his previous success with the box office and awards shows, while Martinez’s Ivan is a acting professor along with a stage icon. The idea was to have the best of both stage and screen in a movie together and that sounds great, but no one accounted for how aggravated each actor would become with each other and the director. Both of them are given enough quirks and personal life information that fully develops their characters into multi-dimensional personalities.

During the increasingly tense and unpredictable weeks of rehearsal, each actor goes through his own period of discovery, frustration, and doubt. Ivan is the older actor and the seemingly calmer of the two, who prefers to work analyzing the backstory and motivation for his character. He’s frustrated by Felix’s seemingly carefree approach, preferring to rely on instinct rather than any particular method. The way the approach their roles may be quite different, but they are both in their own way quite arrogant, which is something that becomes apparent as they continue to loose patience with each other and the process.



“Official Competition” relishes the friction between the co-stars, but the instigator winds up being Lola with Cruz turning in an absolutely hilarious performance as an eccentric filmmaker who at every turn ups the insanity. Some of the most memorable comedic scenes involve ways in which Lola tries to stimulate spontaneity out of the actors, such as a moment in which she requires the two actors to sit under a massive boulder hung by a steel cord attached to a crane in order for them to get in touch with their fears. There is also a hilariously uncomfortable rehearsal involving a kissing scene with Humberto’s granddaughter, Diane (Irene Escolar), which culminates in Cruz stepping in and showing the two actors how it should be done, much to their disbelief and arousal. Cruz is having a blast with this character, reminding viewers of her range as an actor and willingness to immerse herself into an unpredictable role.

The desire for deception and need for one-upmanship between Felix and Ivan, both of whom seek out Lola’s approval, is thoroughly entertaining, even when the third act takes an unexpected dark turn. As much as there are truly comical moments, the screenplay never drops into slapstick territory and instead follows the different ways each actor communicates with antagonism. The directors, working with cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer, make the most of establishing the diametric differences between the three artists, by distinctive camera framing that allows the characters to be alone together.

Overall, this is a film with a surprisingly strong satirical grasp, while allowing Cruz, Banderas, and Martinez, to make some truly magical choices here. There were more than a few times where I was wondering what in the world was going on and that’s a great thing. If you’re into the acting process at all and seek out movies about making movies, this is definitely one for you. With its pitch-perfect light and dark moments, “Official Competition” is a light and fun and highly amusing viewing experience.



RATING: ***1/2



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