Venice 2021- The Glorious Performance Paradox of “Official Competition”: Film Review

In Official Competition, a hedge fund millionaire wants to create something that will outlast his mortal body. He wants to be remembered and revered like Rockefeller or Carnegie. Instead of choosing a physical structure like a concert hall or a stadium though, he decides that he wants his legacy etched onto the silver screen.

The irony that he would choose an artform that has become so disposable in the age of streaming is not lost on directors Mariano Cohn & Gastón Duprat. In fact it’s this very irony that kickstarts the narrative of their showbiz satire, Official Competition. The film is chocked full of towering actors and their even larger egos as international superstar Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) and method actor, Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) battle for performance supremacy in the millionaire’s vanity feature.

The kind of hijinks that ensue hark back to the age of screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday. It’s almost as if Dwayne Johnson and Daniel Day-Lewis were dropped into a Spy Vs. Spy situation. Part of the reason Official Competition is so humorous is because of how seriously the fictional actors take their craft. By having Félix and Iván try and ‘one up’ each other in tasteless fashion, Cohn & Duprat demonstrate just how farcical acting, and filmmaking in general, can be.

Yet, the film’s humor only works due to the fantastic performances of Banderas, Martínez, and Penelope Cruz as Lola Cuevas, the eccentric director of the fictional film. This then creates a kind of paradox: The kind of acting Official Competition is poking fun at only works due to the dedicated performances from the entire cast.

Even though Official Competition‘s runtime mostly consists of satirizing the acting the community, the film is bookended by commentary regarding the entire industry. Through the movie, Cuevas contemplates if a film is eternal; that even though the credits will always roll, the emotions and memories that a movie leaves us with will last forever. In a film chocked full of chuckles, it’s the theorizing about a film’s social relevancy and longevity in the modern age that may be the biggest joke of all.

The Silver Lining

Creating a comedy that doesn’t rely on physical humor to serve a global audience is nearly impossible due to the plethora of social and cultural tics that widely vary by country. That’s why it’s so impressive that Mariano Cohn and Andrés & Gastón Duprat were able to craft a Spanish screenplay that connected so strongly with an Italian & English audience at Venice.

Part of the success is due to the charged lively delivery by Banderas, Cruz, and Martínez. Though it’s the eccentricities and pranks played by the characters that translate perfectly to so many languages given Official Competition‘s satirization of the film industry, which has a cultural monopoly in our global society.

Official Competition is coming soon to a screen near you.

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