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Official Competition (2021)
Image: Buena Vista International

Film

Official Competition is a Deceptive Delight

A wealthy businessman hires a famous filmmaker to help make a smash hit film.

Official Competition Review

David McCallum once said he was encouraged to get into acting by a schoolteacher who took note of his reputation as a “brilliant liar.” The characters in Official Competition must have received similar career advice in their youth. Each one competes to see who can be the best fibber, and the fun in the film comes in watching their obliviousness not just to each other’s lies but the ones they tell to flatter themselves.

Having just turned eighty, a millionaire businessman (Jose Luis Gomez) decides funding a prestigious film would be the best way to secure a philanthropic legacy. Having already purchased the rights to a novel by a recent Nobel Prize-winning author, he hires acclaimed director Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) to helm the adaptation.  She in turn hires two heavyweight actors with very different reputations: Felix (Antonio Banderas) is an international star of mindless big-budget films while Ivan (Oscar Martinez) is a serious and scholarly stage actor.  Lola herself has cultivated a reputation as an eccentric auteur who will go to any extreme to get the performances she wants, and to her delight (and ours) she starts to set these two titanic egos against each other in a battle of wits that reveals her own reputation to be well-earned.

Official Competition
Image: Buena Vista International

Despite its distinctly European flavor (the directors are actually from Argentina, as are Martinez and his character), the film is in the tradition of American farces such as Twentieth Century and To Be or Not To Be where actors and directors with colossal egos battle it out. Unlike those films there is no romantic triangle: Martinez is happily married, and Cruz’s character comes out in one of the funniest kissing scenes ever. Fortunately, and most refreshingly, the character’s sexuality is not used to define her or the storyline; it’s just one aspect of who she is and takes a back seat to her professional life.

Cruz is good as always, but despite her character’s commanding presence it’s the performances by Banderas and Martinez that entertain the most. Banderas is obviously having a lot of fun spoofing himself as well as many of his fellow international stars: he sports a George Clooney haircut and makes a hilariously earnest Leonardo DiCaprio-style PSA for the pink river dolphin. Martinez, whose character and performance seem to be modeled on George C. Scott, properly keeps himself restrained throughout much of the film so we can see the frustration slowly boiling under his brow. He’ll likely also remind audiences of Allen Rickman, especially after the recent posthumous publication of Rickman’s venomously frank acting journals. Both Felix and Ivan are hilariously unaware of how they are fooling themselves the most. Felix thinks his massive fame means he must be the better actor, while Ivan, for all his pretensions, is just as shallow. While conducting research on the Internet he lets his mind stray and clicks on an ad for teeth whitening.

Official Competition
Image: Buena Vista International

Official Competition goes on for far too long, well past the point that any comedy can sustain itself. Several extraneous scenes could have easily been trimmed and this is yet another film so unsure of which ending it should take that it just uses all of them. There are also moments where the characters cross the line of cruelty, especially when Cruz envelopes Banderas and Martinez in plastic wrap, bring in a massive garbage disposal unit, and….nope, can’t say anything more. At least the film holds back from being cruel to its audience.  The subversive pleasures of Official Competition come from the way it keeps its promise to entertain viewers even as it continues to tell them brilliant lies.

Written By

Andrew Kidd is a sometimes sessional instructor living in Ontario, where he proudly volunteers for the Windsor International Film Festival. He enjoys classic movies, hard science fiction, and really bad puns.

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