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Official Competition is a compelling farce of modern moviemaking.


Official Competition screening provided by Madman Entertainment

“Banderas, Cruz, and Martinez excel in this Spanish wonderful filmmaking farce.”

The art of filmmaking is a bizarre yet equally compelling affair, with the actors and creators behind them operating so wildly from the norm as mere patrons are accustomed to, they create as equally an amusing subject as the films they pour their souls into.

Official Competition (2021) is less interested in the film at the heart of its story, but rather the creators behind its inception. The film is an exploratory meta-dramedy about acting, filmmaking, and the creative process that maintains a level of entertainment throughout, to never lose itself in its own exercise. 

The film begins hilariously with Spanish billionaire Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez), who is filled with existential dread as he wonders what his legacy will be. He quickly decides the way to achieve this is by producing a film, any film, as long as it’s great. Either that or a bridge.

Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) in Official Competition.

Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) in Official Competition.

Suárez buys the rights to a top selling novel he has not read and hands the reins over to Palme d’Or winning eccentric filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz), who casts Spain’s two leading actors: the old master Ivan Torres (Martinez), and the blockbuster star Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas).

With three wonderful performances by Banderas, Cruz, and Martinez, the film is able to operate within its framework as a weeklong rehearsal for a film we never see because we are so compelled by this triangle of competing creatives.

Cruz has the most compelling role of the trio as director Lola, an esteemed filmmaker that is clearly curious in the superficial world of Felix’s, not seeing it as reductively as Ivan. She widens every frame she is in, allowing the confined, Covid-safe location of the directors home to breathe life into scenes, instead of feeling lifeless like many recent Covid-produced film and television have.

(from left) Ivan Torres (Oscar Martine), Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz), and Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), in Official Competition.

(from left) Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez), Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz), and Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), in Official Competition.

Official Competition is a film with actors playing actors which usually devolves into an exercise in indulgence. While there are occasions where it falters into this unfortunate space, the performances are quite nuanced and compelling that it elevates the material into a higher tier of film-about-filmmaking. 

The film excels in its farcical comedy, including possibly the funniest ad popup click in cinema history. The characters are established so fully and clearly from the beginning that the comedic moments between them flow with a soulful ease.

Official Competition is also shot impeccably by Arnau Valls Colomer, a cinematographer known for his work in the music video space, that really elevates the film above the meta narrative it operates within. The camera and set decisions within the director’s lavish house consistently elevate what is essentially a chamber piece of three characters talking in rooms. 

There is one deeply emotional monologue with Banderas, shot as a test scene, with an enormous curved screen behind the actor that is worth the price of admission alone. Blending distance through the film’s camera and the other camera, establishing an extreme closeup on an enormous screen, conveying the monologues’ deeply intimate but emotionally distant nature, something that evolves slowly across the single take.

Official Competition joins a long history of inside-baseball-cinema, where the comedy and drama are mined from the filmmaking industry itself, and it deserves to be put amongst the best. The wonderfully considered cinematography and excellent performances from Cruz, Banderas, and Martinez will hopefully get considered come awards season.

Official Competition opens nationally from the 21st of July, 2022. 


Darcy Read

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