Three incredible performances make this hilariously dark send-up of the film industry entertaining from start to finish, though it might not be every viewer's cup of tea. Official Competition captures the egotism of its characters, each of whom has his or her own self-serving artistic beliefs and methods.
The way that Cruz, Banderas, and veteran Argentine actor Martínez capture this in their stances, glances, and sweeping pronouncements is both hysterical and cringe-worthy for its likely similarity to real-life film industry folks.
An empty warehouse rehearsal, with a "house" simply cordoned off, suggests Lars von Trier's experimental Dogville. Closing scenes add to the pile of targets with red carpet photo calls and a pompous press conference.
Anyone who's been to these kinds of events or worked in the film industry will recognize the "types" on display, and this film might appeal especially to critics and insiders. But thanks to the high-caliber actors and the absurd twists and turns of the story, the film should also appeal more broadly. Its nearly two hour run time flies by.
The film-within-the-film is based on a book about a rivalry between two brothers, a "competition" that's paralleled hilariously in the two actors.
A master of the humble brag, Iván practices a speech renouncing an Oscar, skewers the lack of originality in mainstream entertainment, and absolutely insists on flying coach and rejecting big paychecks. Meanwhile, Banderas' Félix (a potentially meta character for the actor, since he's a global star who must defend his studio films to fellow actors), has macrobiotic food and a no face-touching policy written into his contracts.
And as the wild-haired Lola, Cruz's artistic and existential angst hints at how meaningless some of her aspirations and techniques might actually be. The film's cold, modern settings reflect this hollowness (with a nod to a millionaire's vast but empty "foundation" space). Likewise, there's symbolism in the film's use of screens, cameras, and especially mirrors to reflect fractured, enlarged, imitative images back at the characters.
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Images courtesy of IFC Films.