Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5
Original Title: Competencia oficial
Spain/Argentina, 2021. The MediaPro Studio. Screenplay by Mariano Cohn, Andrés Duprat, Gastón Duprat. Cinematography by Arnau Valls Colomer. Produced by Jaume Roures. Production Design by Alain Bainee. Costume Design by Wanda Morales. Film Editing by Alberto del Campo.
A pharmaceutical tycoon isn’t content with being notoriously rich, he wants his name to be associated with more than just profit and his legacy should be having contributed something culturally valuable to his society. After much consideration he decides to produce a movie, an illogical choice given that his legacy would be better served by a hospital wing or building a new park, but one he goes ahead with all the same. Buying the rights to a Nobel prize-winning novel, he hires Spain’s most admired director (Penelope Cruz) to helm it and she, an avant-garde quirk with a giant, frizzy mop of red hair on her head and a wardrobe that continually defies the odds, insists that the film, which is about the reconciliation of two estranged brothers, would be best served by casting actors from two different worlds. She csats highly paid, notoriously flashy movie star Antonio Banderas and humbler but more critically admired theatre veteran Oscar Martínez for the lead roles, and they butt heads almost immediately as rehearsals begin in an ominously empty building featuring cavernous rooms with stylized wall designs and lighting schemes. Giant spaces dwarf the few performers as they argue over details of the script and indulge in a series of increasingly odd exercises meant to build up their chemistry with each other, including running lines under a giant, suspended boulder and making out with each other while standing in front of multiple hot microphones (the film’s aesthetic experiments, meant to engage both visual and aural sense, work extremely well as isolated sequences). Directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat are pitching a great deal of dark humour at the film industry and the highly indulgent personalities that it fosters and celebrates, not realizing that unlike the world of religion or politics, movies are adored by people who aren’t going to be in any way scandalized, enlightened or particularly provoked to learn that their idols are flawed. Cruz is having a marvelous time playing a far more extreme character than she ever gets to play, while Banderas and Martinez work hard to enjoy a premise that barely extends beyond the one joke being spread over the whole film and which is rarely clever or inspired. The film was shot during the Covid-19 pandemic and this is possibly the reason that its visuals are so spare of human participants, there’s a logical failure in making a movie about the film industry that takes place entirely in a rehearsal period (many film productions do it but it’s not a standard aspect of the artform). The fact that we never see any actual filming means that none of the noise of making cinema is present, resulting in a shallow effort that starts out mildly amusing and becomes insufferable and tiresome by the time it’s over.
Venice Film Festival: In Competition