Official Competition: The BRWC Review

Official Competition: The BRWC Review

Official Competition: The BRWC Review. By Andrew Prosser.

Quiz for the chefs reading: what do you get when you take half the premise of Tropic Thunder, mix it with the backdrop of last year’s Drive My Car (that is, the world of rehearsal spaces, not a stretch of Hiroshima highway), and serve the whole thing over a bed of references to Shepard’s True West that are somehow simultaneously too honest to be ignored, and also one cannot be entirely certain they are even intentional? Assuming you’ve mixed all of that properly, what you’ll emerge with is Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat’s Official Competition (Competencia oficial).

We begin in the offices of Humberto Suarez (José Luis Gómez), a wealthy businessman who has grown restless on the day of his eightieth birthday “How do people see me?” He asks his apparent second-in-command. Suarez dismisses his lackey’s opinion before answering his own question: “As a millionaire with an obscene fortune, but no prestige.” In an apparent mid-life crisis forty years too late, Suarez determines that he will finance a film, to be his legacy – and not just any film, the best film: with the best actors, the best director, based on an acclaimed novel that, of course, he hasn’t read.

To that end, he meets with Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz), a highly-esteemed, if eccentric film director. She enthralls the would-be financier by laying out the story of the novel he’s bought the rights to as if telling him a bedtime story. Furthermore, she impresses him with her notion that the pair of brothers at the film’s center should be played by beloved international film superstar Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) and humble, serious artist Iván Torres (Oscar Martinez).

The man who up until this point appeared the film’s protagonist (of Official Competition, that is) is overjoyed that his “best director” has also chosen two of the “best actors” he can even imagine, it’s just what he had hoped – except, could the two of them really work together? Surely their vastly different approaches to the craft of acting will cause more than a few disagreements throughout the course of rehearsal, never mind filming. Cuevas counters that the play-within-the-play is about the struggle between those two brothers they are meant to portray, and any friction between the two performers was not only expected, but the idea. Say, that’s not a bad premise for a movie right there.

From that jumping-off point, we see little of the aspiring producer, his role within the larger film dwindling just as it also does in the making of his “prestige” project. And it’s there, once Cruz’s Lola Cuevas is in the same room with Martinez’s Ivan and Banderas’s Felix, that Official Competition starts in earnest. Petty jealousies and insecurities gnaw at the two leading men throughout their short rehearsal process (Felix’s schedule demands it, sorry) as the two clash not only with each other but with their director, who… is an artistic genius? An overhyped fraud? A dangerous psychopath?

There are plenty of antics at play here, and the more it all begins to veer into farce, the more miserable it makes Ivan and Felix, and the more fun we’re having, at home or in the fifth row. Martinez, Banderas, and Cruz are each of them electric as the trio of artists, all neurotic in wholly distinct ways. And it’s a good thing they are, because much like the film their characters have set out to make together, the success or failure of Official Competition hangs on the quality of their performances.

Add to that a clever turn in the plot that is both unexpected, and also somehow feels inevitable, and you have a supremely entertaining night at the cineplex that is not to be missed.

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