Official Competition

This drily absurd Spanish comedy opens with 80-year-old industrialist Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) deciding to sink a little of his fortune into producing an "important" movie. After securing the costly rights to a Nobel Prize-winning novel called Rivalry, he hires esteemed director Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz in a fright wig) to helm the project. She insists upon casting two actors from different backgrounds as the leads: pretentious stage thespian Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and Hollywood superstar Félix Rivero (an Antonio Banderas-like character played by Antonio Banderas himself). She expects a literal rivalry between the men – and she's out to get it. So Suárez lends her his gigantic, never-used foundation building for rehearsals, and said rehearsals take up the bulk of Official Competition's runtime.

Although there are a few supporting players and a couple of additional settings, this film mostly consists of the three main characters sparring in the building's vast lonely rooms. There's an inescapable sense that Official Competition was shot under Covid lockdown conditions, but if you're okay with such a chamber piece, the film has its rewards: strikingly composed shots, fun performances by the central trio, and honest observations about the director-actor relationship.

About that last bit: as someone who has indeed directed actors himself, I wonder if people who haven't gone through that process will appreciate this movie as much – or if it will just come across as, "Showbiz people: what wackos they are!" Official Competition unfolds as a series of outrageous set pieces in which Lola cajoles, frightens, and enrages her leading men into giving her the performances she wants. Any director can tell you about the hoops they've had to jump through just to get the right line reading out of an actor, so while Lola's methods are perverse (to say the least), there's a real truth in there. But if the director-actor relationship doesn't mean anything to you, neither will this movie.

In the end, Official Competition is an amusing trifle with great stars and a couple of nifty twists, but it's ultimately stifled by its own smallness.