Official Competition

A great Amodovar movie NOT made by him.

“Official Competition” may have Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as the leads, but it’s neither made by Pedro Almodovar nor is it released by Sony Pictures Classics. It’s actually made by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat, and released by IFC Films. It feels like it’s made by Almodovar and SPC, because of how this Spanish import challenges our thoughts and guides the two leads on balanced and artistic levels. They’re both in the kind of levels they respectively represented in the filmmaker’s entries, like Banderas in “Pain & Glory” or Cruz in “Parallel Mothers.”

It’s not just them we should single out, but also Oscar Martinez, who was unbelievable in one of the segments of “Wild Tales” (also produced by Amodovar), has another exceptional role in a story about two actors-one less cocky than the other-and the early stages of a Palme d-Or masterpiece. At least, we hope it earns that prize.

Humberto Suarez (Jose Luis Gomez) is a billionaire who just turned 80, and decides to finance a movie made by famous people. Penelope Cruz is the director Lola Cuevas, who has more time to focus on her classics than starting a romantic relationship.

The movie would be based on a book about two brothers Manuel and Pedro. Manuel would end up in jail for getting his parents killed in a DUI accident, while Pedro would life a life of luxury. They would eventually meet under circumstances.

Antonio Banderas is Felix, who is set to play Manuel, while Oscar Martinez is Ivan, who is set to play Pedro. Felix is the more well known, cocky actor than Ivan, who is more of a stage actor of artisan fame and could care less about the high life (skipping first class on flights).

There are many complications along the rehearsal process, as the three main characters start to become disillusioned by their respective behaviors. “Official Competition” takes different paths with different territories, and it balances personalities with originality.

For example, there’s a scene when Lola asks Felix and Ivan to bring some of their awards to the rehearsal. The results are predictable, but it’s funny and lively the way they handle that scene.

And another example is they have to sit under a crane holding a giant boulder to represent their fears of being in front of a courtroom judge. The joke is not what you’d expect. It’s also the kind of humor that Wes Anderson would enjoy, especially since he was able to film a very tall treehouse in “Moonrise Kingdom.”

The performances are transcendent in the ways Cruz, Banderas, and Martinez are able to adapt to the story, or try and fail to, and their characters are able to act in a movie, while acting in this movie. This is literally a story about acting. We can either laugh at the jokes, be sad at the seriousness, or be mad at some of the deceptions. It’s riveting all the way through, as we wait for the shoe to drop.

Cohn and Duprat both also wrote the screenplay with Andres Duprat, and they push these actors to the very limit. Half of their stories are real, while the other half is just acting. They do say that life is not a movie, but “Official Competition” wants to believe it is a movie, especially the last half hour, which tests our patience. This is a film for people who love films and the process of green-lighting them.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: comedy, Drama, Foreign

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