Official Competition (2021)

A decent Spanish comedy that pokes fun at the film industry, acting and the creative process, benefiting from the wonderful charisma of its trio of actors.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,432

Dir. Mariano Cohn & Gaston Duprat
2021 | Spain | Comedy/Drama | 114 mins | 2.39:1 | Spanish
M18 (passed clean) for language and some nudity

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez
Plot: A wealthy businessman hires a famous filmmaker to help make a smash hit film.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion & Queer Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Protagonist Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Film Industry; Acting
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: In Theatres – Shaw Lido
Spoilers: No


We haven’t had a film that poked fun at the film industry for quite some time, so seeing something like Official Competition was quite refreshing. 

In competition at the Venice Film Festival last year, this Spanish comedy has a formidable leading cast in Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martinez, all three of whom deliver engaging performances.

But more importantly, the film is a showcase of the wonderful charisma that they possess as they light up the screen with their characters’ eccentric personalities. 

Cruz plays Lola Cuevas, a renowned iconoclastic auteur who must direct two of the world’s greatest actors, played by Banderas and Martinez, in an arthouse production of a book adaptation, financed entirely by a wealthy old man, hoping he would be remembered when he passes away. 

“It’s not the first time I’ve worked with an idiot.”

Martinez’s Ivan Torres is a respected thespian while Banderas’ Felix Rivero is a global star—each has their own style, philosophy and process, creating natural tension during the countless rehearsals they are made to partake in before principal photography commences. 

Co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat keep proceedings straightforward and imbue much of their film with a strong note of levity, but not without also gleefully providing little narrative detours. 

Official Competition benefits very much from the wonderful charisma of its trio of actors, as they battle it out on the acting front. 

In this case, the film’s title has a double meaning, not just referring to film festivals and their awards competition, but also the manipulative and deceptive means that human beings employ to show who’s stronger or better in a testing rivalry. 

Will Lola be able to complete the film?  When faith is a matter of irony, it’s difficult to draw any conclusion. 

Grade: B+


Trailer:

5 Comments

  1. Please forgive me if I’m in a bit of a moany mood today, but I’m not sure why you docked one-and-a-half stars.
    Your description seems glowing, so I can’t quite see why you gave it what I interpret as an “it’s just OK” rating – at least that is what I usually conclude when you give a film this rating, and I find that I usually agree with you: the movie is entertaining or interesting, but lacks substance.
    It’s just that this time I can’t find anything in your review that would not make we want to rush to see it – on the contrary – but then, three-and-a-half stars?

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    Reply

    1. I don’t really know how to respond to your question but I would say normally a “it’s just okay” is a B or B- for me, a low 3.5 stars or 3 stars. This film is “not bad and quite decent”. A high 3.5 stars, B+ for me. I wasn’t comfortable even giving it a 4, as it didn’t cross my mind when the end credits rolled.

      One method I often use to decide between a B or B+ under the 3.5 stars range is to put on my programmer’s hat – I would spend money to programme a film with at least a B+; less enthused if it’s a B or below. However, there had been films that I didn’t necessarily like, but feel they were still worth programming.

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      Reply

      1. Yes, thanks for your considered reply, much appreciated.
        I suppose I just wanted to understand why your score didn’t seem to reflect what was in the body of your review. I could find nothing that told me why you were not so enthusiastic about this film; there was only fulsome praise.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Gotcha thanks for your thoughts – I’m still trying to match writing with grading (or is it the other way round?)

        There had been a few occasions where I struggled. Recently, I reviewed THE NORTHMAN, which I was toggling between a B+ or B. Then I wrote something that felt more like a B-. So I was trying to decide: should I tweak my writing to reflect a more B-ish, 3.5 stars tone, or dock off a half-star to 3 to better align what I had written. The latter is much easier of course.

        I still don’t have an answer as to whether the most accurate barometer for assessing a film is giving a rating right after the credits roll and sticking with it, or when I have had some time to think about it while writing. The ‘best’ answer would be to find a ‘middle ground’ between the two, though it is easier said than done. But I guess this is also what keeps me going – to be a better judge of my own judgment with each new film I see!

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      3. Hahaha! Thank you for this insight into the film critic’s process. It is quite a responsibility – folk like me depend upon you! – and I understand that it is an ever-developing skill – and much appreciated, as such. So no more griping from me – at least for now. 😉

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