The latest film from the dynamic duo of Argentine directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn opens as the guests are leaving an 80th birthday bash for pharmaceutical billionaire businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez). On reaching this milestone, he is suddenly concerned about what the world will think of him after his demise. What is his legacy? A bridge perhaps, with his name on it? No, too obvious! He settles instead for executive producing a film. And just any film. At great expense he acquires the rights to an award winning tome about two warring brothers and choses Palme d’Or winning director Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) to direct it.
Banderas and Martinez
Cut to a very funny scene where Suarez, who has probably never seen an art film in his life or read the novel in question, sits with mouth agape as Cuevas, who is known for her experiment methods and long rehearsal process, outlines her plans for the film. She has decided to cast international sensation Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) opposite renowned stage actor Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez) believing their different backgrounds will add a certain something to the brothers animosity toward one another
That Felix and Ivan loathe each other is a given but, as the arduous rehearsal process begins, their hate turns more and more on their director who drags out a simple line reading into a series of bizarre acting exercises. One of these involves having Felix and Ivan rehearse while a giant bolder (think of the rock at LACMA) floats above their heads – you see the giant crane before you see the rock and you wonder what is THAT doing on a movie set. Anything to get a little more tension going. Then, upping the ante, she ties the two actors together while throwing their various awards into scrap metal shredder. And that’s just for starters!
Cruz is fantastic and is obviously having the time of her life milking her experiences with all of those difficult-to-work-with auteurs that she has crossed paths with over the years. But she is more than that. Despite the grand gestures and a hairdo that would make Louis XIV blush, she manages to create a real character with surprising depth.
The same goes for Banderas and Martinez who, to some extent, are playing versions of themselves. Or at least themselves as the world sees them. That is why Banderas’ Felix, a prima donna whose international career and lifestyle are familiar, as a variation on his own, comes off best. Martinez, who is largely unknown to North American audiences has a harder time. It seems fitting that one of his best scenes is a rehearsal, in front of a mirror, of his rejection speech, a la Sacheen Littlefeather and Marlon Brando, of a certain major award.
The only problem with “Official Competition” is its length. An idea that was good for say ninety minutes is allowed to run on for thirty minutes too long. But, while the going is good, there are a lot of inspired moments and major laughs in this movie.