Even though I enjoy the hell out of a great, Oscar worthy film, I would be much happier if I didn’t have to hear the condescending pontifications of each director, producer, and actor in all of these films. My eyerolls and guttural “ughs” get worse with every “character journey,” “filmmaking process,” and “that’s the power of movies” someone tosses toward an entertainment podcaster. Official Competition knows this: it’s the high brow Oscar movie openly mocking those films, acknowledging how silly and stupid the “process” can be.
Humberto Suarez (Jose Luis Gomez), on his 80th birthday, is sensing the end of his line. Wanting to leave a legacy, he decides he’s gonna build a bridge….or…he’s gonna make a movie! And not just any movie….the GREATEST MOVIE! That means Humberto needs the best of the best. He starts with acclaimed director Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz), a sporadic but brilliant filmmaker waiting for her next project. Based on the best book Humberto buys the rights to, she recruits the two best actors out there to make it: the auteur/thespian Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez) and the super popular movie star Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas).
Official Competition acidically tears down the life of “prestige” moviemakers. This movie takes you into the weeds of making a “great” movie, first and foremost with your stars. If you want to be the best of the best, you’re working with people who think they have the talent/gifts to get you to the mountaintop. That hyper self-confidence usually masks some level of fragility, self-doubt, or hubris, which quickly transforms that confidence into full blown narcissism. Penelope Cruz, Oscar Martinez, and Antonio Banderas give us 3 different types of narcissists, only checked by a greater self-importance/righteousness by one of the other two. Martinez’s Ivan is convinced all the work he does is for the more elevated human, humorously obnoxious through his shame speech, especially towards Banderas’s Felix. Felix has let his worldwide popularity get to his head, making himself the face of numerous “causes” he’s now supporting while negotiating to not have his face touched in this new film. And then there’s the amazing Penelope Cruz aka Lola, who has a blast channeling all those horrific directors she’s probably had to work for, completely invading her actors’ privacy and contract negotiations to manipulate them to do what she wants as she “suffers” for her art. The 3 form a tripod of comedic delight, completely skewering the unearned pomp and circumstance of an Oscar worthy movie.
And then there’s the march of the prestige film from conception to completion. Official Competition shows how unnecessarily arduous making the “best” film is. Every decision has to go through a complex evaluation of how it feeds into the metaphor for the movie, which Official Competition amusingly points out via Lola spending 9 hours on drapery pleat styles. The actors all need time to “get into character,” for the story, by far the funniest material here, as the exercises Lola, Felix, and Ivan use to transform are crazy, ridiculous, and sometimes just straight up delusional. In films like the one in Official Competition, everyone is so intent on inhabit their characters that their relationship to the outside world is completely severed. All of these people deep into the movie forget how to act rationally to human beings for the sake of the art they are making, causing real pain they justify through “putting art into the world.” The great risk Official Competition presents is the unholy concoction of a narcissistic “artist” untethered from reality; that person makes truly vile decisions that they justify in their head because they were “playing a character.” But the line between person/character is perpetually blurry making high art, meaning this behavior never ends, it just transforms, built on the same flimsy hubris it started from in the first place.
I would laugh hard if Official Competition gets nominated for Oscars. What would Cruz, Martinez, Banderas, and filmmakers Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn do, since they pointed out how dumb their high art was? I get giddy thinking about all sorts of routes they could go here; hopefully it’s some Banksy like performance where the Oscar explodes, or entirely different paid artists go up there and receive the award, insisting they made the movie and were deep faked by real actors. Life is a movie, and it never ends!