The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Curzon] - OFFICIAL COMPETITION | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Curzon] - OFFICIAL COMPETITION

Official Competition review
Three estranged filmmakers are hired to work together to make a movie for an egotistical billionaire.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat

Starring: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, José Luis Gómez

Official Competition poster

That Penélope Cruz, you just can’t beat her. The fathomless, piercing intelligence; the eyes which can flicker from cruelty to kindness in a single frame; the infinite grace, the endless style (she is Chanel, of course). Cruz is an actor whose performance dictates the movies that she stars in, a true auteur. So, it is entirely fitting that in Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s (with co-writing duties shared with Andrés Duprat) dramedy Official Competition, the great Cruz plays mercurial film-maker Lola Cuevas, an eccentric and Palme d'Or celebrated director (think a more cartoony Von Trier with DeMille’s absolute predominance). Even here with a Sideshow Bob fright-wig, she is still the coolest human being on planet Earth, and the role gives Cruz mucha opportunity to share her sharp comedic instincts and steely energy.

Official Competition review

Employed by a wealthy businessman in a fit of late-life hobbyism to produce a film (a development which neatly allows the film to sidestep such factors as studio interference), Cuevas is tasked with writing and directing an adaptation of a novel about a man who is unable to forgive his brother for killing their parents in a drunk-driving accident. The kinsmen are played by Antonio Banderas (Cruz and Banderas - a dream pairing not seen together since a scant few scenes in I’m So Excited) and Oscar Martínez; Banderas’ movie star Felix is showy and handsome, while Martínez’s stage trained Iván is earnestly pretentious. The narrative depicts the actors working and rehearsing under Cuevas’ unconventional conditions: an unofficial competition.

Official Competition review

Yes, it’s all very meta. As an inevitable rivalry develops between the actors (and is duly stoked by Cuevas), there are little digs about Iván’s Argentinian accent (Martínez is from Buenos Aires) and a, quite amusing, diatribe about Latino actors playing to type in Hollywood. But the absolute pleasure of Official Competition is how genuinely, gently funny it is, and how generous the film is to its characters, who are exaggerated but never succumb to caricature. For a film where the opening scenes features Queen Cruz in platform shoes and that wig, pointedly smoking a cigarette at camera, the film is never quite as mega-camp as it lazily could have been (although, there was heated debate post the press screening regarding which of Cruz’s outfits was the most amazing: obviously the gold lamé pants and billowy suit jacket with same shade piping). Instead, despite the vanity of the characters, there is warmth generated for the trio as they work together and against each other, at times conniving against themselves and other times seeming to support each other (a sub-theme seems to be the essential loneliness of the artistic creator, as the most revealing moments of Official Competition occur when we see characters alone, including a moment where Cruz’s character teaches herself the floss dance - we’ve all done it - and which is obviously my favourite moment in film this year, etc).

Official Competition review

For any fan of cinema, the sort of quirky events that Official Competition offers coincide with how we secretly hope all films are made: a deeply serious but reassuringly absurd endeavour. Perhaps there was some scope for Cruz’s character to be a little more dictatorial - maybe it’s me, but I found her working process fairly reasonable in a manner which the film positions us against (apart from a nail-biting scene involving the actors’ various trophies and a jaw crusher - yikes!). But then again, the gentle mocking of the ego and the essential silliness which Official Competition engenders doesn’t allow for any real spite or malice. A moment involving Cuevas using a hired crane to dangle a Roadrunner style massive rock over Felix and Iván’s heads as they perform has a lovely visual pay-off, and there is a joke where two characters snog for just that little too long which has the genius timing of mid-era Simpsons. I’m actually smiling thinking of it again! Official Competition is a late summer comedy whose cool characterisations and sophisticated folly is unrivalled.

Official Competition is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from August 26th.

2022 movie reviews