Predictability is often a quality in a movie’s plotting that leaves it open for derision. In film, the audience should be taken on a journey that they aren’t expecting, revelling in the twists and turns of the narrative as it is revealed. In the case of Official Competition, directing duo Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s seventh joint feature film, the basic sequence of how things will go seems fairly plain from the get go. Still, it remains an ultimately gripping watch, mainly from the strength of its three leads, and a taut, acerbic script that left the packed cinema I watched it in entertained for the full 2-hour runtime.
Official Competition follows two very different actors: uppity, prestigious stage performer Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez) and cocksure, commercial superstar Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas). They are casted to play brothers in an adaptation of a fictitious book called Rivalry, directed by the world renowned Lola Cueves (Penelope Cruz) and financed by ageing millionaire Humberto Suarez (Jose Luis Gomez), who wants to leave a legacy for himself upon his death. The conflict that follows is spelled out fairly clearly from the get go, with the whole script itself in fact playing off of the idea of conflicting sides. Different ideologies rub against each other throughout the film – the new school versus the old school, the visionary versus the pragmatist, the fairer sex versus the rougher.
In Official Competition, everything seems to slot together very neatly for a perfect punchline, not necessarily anything you aren’t expecting, and yet somehow still perfectly welcome. The tension doesn’t necessarily build, but that’s because the tension is adequately set from the opening interaction between Ivan, Felix and Lola. The leads all mould together into a sweetly complimentary trio, this chemistry itself playing into Lola’s own wish for her movie: that the two leads should be adjoining pieces of each other, alternate sides of the same coin.
The general thrust of the narrative sees Ivan and Felix taking parallel yet similar approaches to the script, responding in their own ways to Lola’s neurotic directing technique. At times it seems Felix has the upper hand, other times it is Ivan, when one is the straight man the other is his comedic foil: it all adds up for sequences of equal parts hilarity and impressiveness. The layers of irony flow together very neatly as the film grows legs, the leads essentially acting out a version of the narrative they are adapting in real life – the two brothers, always trying to one up the other, convinced of their unique position and yet ultimately fulfilling very similar purposes.
Everyone here is on their A-game: Banderas is perfect as the cocky ‘wanker’, Martinez too in the role of the jaded academic, and Cruz takes a great turn as the cold yet sensitive Cueves. Every member of the cast is seemingly able to play both sides of their respective coins with ease. The movie toys with its audience, in a way, by giving them exactly what they want, when they are expecting disappointment. The movie exposes how actors always seem to be obsessed with authenticity within a profession that demands pretence: ultimately everyone is putting on a face. Official Competition is on the surface a ‘by-the-numbers’ dark comedy, and it can be enjoyed as such, but it can also be seen as a great vehicle for its cast chemistry, and a meditation on the medium of acting in general. It’s the sort of movie that there should be a more of, in the same wheelhouse as Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers at their best, giving actors a chance to act, whilst also keeping everyone entertained. It can’t really be anything less than 5 stars, simply because it does everything it sets out to do, and then a little bit more.
Official Competition had its UK premiere on August 13 at Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Image credit: courtesy of EIFF Press Team, provided to The Student as press material.