Official Competition (2021), a Meta Film and a Masterclass in Acting

Photo of Antonio Banderas at the 2020 Goya Awards, where he won Best Actor
Antonio Banderas, Best Actor (for Pain and Glory), 2020 Goya Awards.
Pedro J Pacheco, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I happened to turn on the TV last night right before the film Official Competition started (a 2021 Spanish-Argentinian coproduction, Competencia oficial in Spanish), and then was gradually but surely pulled into this art film even as I continued to take very small breaks to do other things.

The whole thing was very meta and very predictable, and yet highly enjoyable because it also had depth. It’s a satire about egos that manages with some minimal elements to strike some deep chords. Most of the film is between the characters of Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martínez. Penélope Cruz is Lola Cuevas, an eccentric director with flaming red hair. Antonio Banderas is Félix Rivero, a multi-awarded buoyant actor who lives for fame, money, and women, and Oscar Martínez is Iván Torres, a more effacing actor who purports to live for the high-mindedness of his job but secretly craves Félix’s success.

The few moments José Luis Gómez is onscreen are precious too, because his understated acting is magnificent. He plays a rich businessman who has just turned eighty and is looking to leave a tangible legacy. He first thinks of a bridge and then the thought of a film alights on his mind very convincingly, even though he has no idea what he would like it to be about. He just wants it to be “great.” He buys the rights to a book by a Nobel-prize winner, a book he doesn’t read, and strikes a deal with Lola the director for the movie. Lola is given free reign, but the old man does get to cast his daughter/nice/granddaughter (can’t remember) in the movie and even attend at least one acting session. Again he’s quite wonderful with his facial expressions. The acting session he’s witnessing is too much for him but he tries to plays it cool while also extracting himself out of his situation early.

Penélope Cruz is the star of this movie, with Banderas a close second. (I’m not showing her photo above simply because I couldn’t find one with the hair she wears in the film, which, believe me, does a huge job of helping change her into the character of Lola; Lola totally rocks that hair.) Penélope Cruz is an actress at the full height of her powers, and she proves that she hasn’t become so well-known for nothing. She is mesmerizing and so very convincing as Lola.

Antonio Banderas is a hoot. I’ve always liked his presence onscreen but here he outdoes himself—even though, or precisely because, he doesn’t overact, the way he sometimes does in some of his movies. And Oscar Martínez, while having less charisma than Banderas, is nevertheless quite beguiling because he almost doesn’t look like an actor but only like a very real person that somehow just stepped onscreen. Of course it’s not only his face we’re talking about here but—mainly—his acting.

The directors of this film, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, both Argentinians, both winners of dozens of awards, have done an amazing job of restraining acting expressions while at the same time showcasing them all the better. Indeed, if something from this movie stays with you as supremely meaningful is the lesson in acting you’ve just watched. Not the predictable plot, with its frame in a frame composition, or the satirical comments on the mannerisms of directors or actors’ egos, but the ravishing beauty of acting. Also the beauty of a movie with minimal sets, because there’s something to be said about that as well. A certain part of the film, where the actors rehearse the final scene of their movie on a set with only a few props, but which could nevertheless work as an actual set for an art film, reminded me of Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003).

Do see Official Competition if you like to think of films and movies and get carried away while enjoying them. Did I mention it was also quite funny at times?

To a happier, healthier life,

🙂 Mira

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