TWO AND A HALF STARS A billionaire, a movie star, a theatre darling and a famous director decide to make a masterpiece. What could possibly go wrong?
Comedy SPAIN Spanish Language #OFFICIALCOMPETITION
Starring Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas
If you turned a rarified, satirical eye on performance in general and film-making in particular, OFFICIAL COMPETITION would be the result. It sets out to lacerate the art-wank circus that accompanies festival darlings and those that make them. It’s the kind of thing that Charlie Kaufman might have made a dozen years ago, meta gone mad, although he’d have injected considerably more sparkle than the writer/director double act of Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat manage here. There are scenes that skewer the intended target with rapier wit, they’re genuinely funny. Yet they sit alongside arid pacing amid a stultifying air of smugness; OFFICIAL COMPETITION strains under the weight of its own posture. At 90 mins it could have been a gem. At 120 it becomes pretty much the kind of self-satisfied film / movie / cinema event it’s trying to cut down.
In Madrid, a billionaire’s 80th birthday is cause for introspection. He decides it’s time to leave a legacy and elects to finance a movie (it’s that or have a bridge named after him). His people buy the rights to the novel of the moment and hire Lola, a hot shot director (Penelope Cruz) to turn it into a masterpiece. In turn she hires everyone’s favourite movie star Felix (Antonio Banderas) and a highly respected theatre actor Ivan (Oscar Martinez) in what will be stroke of casting genius. The inevitable friction between pin-up fame and the famously serious is just what the story needs, reasons Lola. What follows is a clash of style, ego, talent, ego, desire, ego, ability and ego in the pressure cooker of rehearsals. But not just any rehearsal, this is method gone mad.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of fun to be had here. The absurdness of rehearsal is truly entertaining as Lola makes snobby Ivan ‘hello’ a dozen times to get the version she thinks ‘real’. Felix has to appear ‘Level 3 drunk’ on a scale of 1-10. Then a 5. Then a 7. Mind games follow as each one leverages their own importance - arriving late, arriving early, playing ‘who is the best actor?’ Great fun. There are also terrific sight gags, such as Lola making them rehearse under a suspended rock to heighten anxiety.
Yet for every scene that works, there are three that don’t. Cohn and Duprat’s preference for long and wide shots in stripped-bare post-modern bunkers recalls Tati but it was a style that he made work (up to a point). Here it creates a remote, chilly feeling in a medium that calls for the warm, fuzzy close-up. Comedy is personal. Bitching about fabric swatches or including Tik-Tok dances (maybe?) add nothing. A joke about knowing how to end a film, then bringing on another three endings just underlines the fact that they themselves are missing their own barbs, and can’t seem to find a way to stop.
When it’s firing, OFFICIAL COMPETITION is hilarious, laugh out loud funny. More often it’s a film that isn’t really as funny as it think it is. And that’s not fun.