Official Competition (2021): Who makes the movies? It’s a never-ending discussion that has been proposed and debated repeatedly over the years. The auteur theory introduced a school of thought where a singular vision, preferably a writer-director, helms the creative ship. Others counter this by stating how it feeds into the egotistical nature of an ‘artist’ being considered the sole reason for a movie to come to fruition. Besides that, recognizing just the department heads also receives backlash since they are nothing without the people working for them.

Then there’s another chain of thought that says, ‘ Actors make the damn movies!’ This popular movie set meme format reinforces the egoistic forces of stars/actors who believe their image serves the most for the film’s success and even for a project to happen. The Spanish-Argentine black comedy-drama – ‘Official Competition’ (Spanish: Competencia oficial) criticizes this very aspect while presenting an incisive commentary on how a film’s merit is calculated.

Before delving into the film’s synopsis, please be aware that there will be spoilers ahead.

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Official Competition (2021) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

The directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn wrote this film’s screenplay with Andrés Duprat. It begins with Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez), an aging wealthy businessman who decides to produce a film and leave his lasting legacy. So he appoints Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz), a celebrated film director, to adapt a Nobel-prize-winning novel called Rivalry. He buys its rights for a hefty amount. The story revolves around a man who cannot forgive his brother for killing their parents in a drunk driving accident.

To play these two brothers, Lola decides to hire Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez), a snobby, under-achieving stage actor, and Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), a super-successful Hollywood actor, who perhaps isn’t as skilled in the craft of acting. They bring their own point-of-views to approach their roles. Iván prepares an entire backstory for his character to justify his mental state. Félix believes that, as an actor, you say your dialogues convincingly enough to make people buy into its make-believe and make up their own stories. He does not like Iván’s method-acting approach.

Their two contrasting personalities clash with each other while Lola continues with her micro-managing directorial approach. She gives both the actors extensive feedback on their performances, makes them repeat the lines until they satisfy her, and even goes to use a practical experiment of holding a boulder over them by crane to make them feel the tension of their scene. Later, she destroys all the awards that they have received through an industrial shredder. The three artists try to coexist, despite their different sets of methods, to bring a unified vision to the screen.

Since Iván continues to belittle him, Félix decides to take revenge. He shares his pancreatic cancer diagnosis and notes how he wants Rivalry to be his last masterpiece before death. The news devastates Lola, and she worries how she will finish the film if Félix dies within a year. Iván consoles her by offering to do both roles.

Soon after, Félix reveals that he lied about his diagnosis to make them respect his acting skills. Felix is proud of how easily he can fool them with his performance. Iván applauds him for successfully convincing them of this lie and says that he envies the reach Félix has over a wide range of audience. But subsequently, Ivan confesses that he also lied and calls Félix’s work a shallow, banal entertainment made for the majority that feeds onto such cheap tricks.

Later, since Félix often came late to the set in the past, Iván decides to do the same. Their ego battle infuriates Lola. So, she decides to take a break herself as a way to show her importance as a director. Eventually, they reach the final scene of their movie, where Félix’s character murders Iván’s character as an act of revenge and goes to live a life pretending to be him. Soon after this enactment, Humberto organizes a party to commemorate the beginning of this film’s production.

During that time, the majority kept recognizing and respecting Felix, whereas Iván was relegated to the shadows. Because of this embarrassing treatment, Iván vents his anger against Félix, in private, on a rooftop. Félix overhears the insults and cannot control his rage. He goes up to Iván and mistakenly pushes him down. Iván lies in a pool of blood while Félix runs away to save himself from any blame. Later, he comes out to console Iván’s grieving wife. Lola notices it and realizes that Félix is merely acting.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

While Iván stays comatose in a hospital, Félix plays the brothers’ roles (as proposed by Iván before). The film goes to a film festival where he is praised for his performance in the post-screening Q&A session. He shows concern for his ex-co-star Iván and says that he wishes Iván should have been in the film as well. However, Lola answers the press queries with single words and does not indulge in sharing ‘any deeper meaning or connection’ behind the film. Later on, Humberto cuts the ribbon for a new bridge. Félix continues to do his Hollywood film projects, whereas Iván wakes up from his coma and curses Félix.

Official Competition (2021) Movie Ending Explained:

Does Revival finally get made as per Lola’s vision?

After taking its time to flesh out the personalities of its individual characters slowly, the ending rushes past so many details. While Iván is in a coma, Félix uses his absence to build his own oeuvre to gain the artistic respectability that he has always adored. The idea of casting him in both roles seems to have come from Lola’s mind since Iván presented her with that idea in the past. Besides, she does not seem like the person who would want to waste any opportunity she gets. So, she fulfills her ultimate goal – making the film one way or the other.

The role-play found in the characters of Iván and Félix mirrors their real lives – where Iván takes on Félix’s life after his loss. Since the meta-aspect is quite evident, Lola refuses to indulge in commenting on it. It may be because of the unnecessary controversy it would attract or because she wants to move on from discussing what happened (and considering that to be the inspiration behind her work). In the final montage, the film essentially addresses one thing – life goes on.

Huberto continues caring for his public image as a multi-millionaire and unveils a bridge that he financed. Félix continues to get great roles despite his limited acting skills and does not pay heed to his past. Since no one catches him in his lie (besides Lola), it reinforces Iván’s point – people buy into the cheap tricks from his acting. Despite his artistic excellence, Iván still craves recognition and retribution for what Félix did to him.

While revealing their progress, Lola breaks the fourth wall to ask us when the film truly ends for us. Even when the end credits roll down, asking us to vacate a theatre, our thoughts and ideas keep lingering. So the immediate shower of awards, recognition, or love doesn’t necessarily dictate a film’s life. It also depends on its longevity. She essentially makes us question how we judge art and what we base our judgments upon. Is it just a high or low rotten tomatoes rating? Is it a film festival award or a box office success? The open-ended nature of her monologue leaves us introspecting on this aspect.

Official Competition (2021) Themes Analysed:

Artists & Egos

The element of an artistic temperament is repeatedly investigated and discussed throughout the film’s duration. Whether mainstream-accomplished Félix or purist Iván, they care excessively about how they are perceived and whether others respect them. When Félix gets a minor bruise, he creates unnecessary drama as if it was a life-threatening accident. When Iván decides to go late to the set because Félix had been allowed to, he also operates with his ego.

Both their actions present the tantrums that actors/artists exhibit, often to increase their worth in the eyes of others. Besides them, Lola’s artistic temperament also becomes evident. Her directing style appears intensely invasive. It’s because she micro-manages every tiny detail so that the work comes alive precisely as per her vision. It infuriates these actors since her method impacts their acting styles. The film creates most of its ‘drama’ through the ego clash of all these individuals in artistic businesses.

Life imitates Art and Vice Versa

The casting of Félix and Iván appears intentional since they mirror the emotional struggles of their characters. The actors seem like estranged brothers who fight over their love for acting the way their characters fight for their love toward their parents. As explained before, the aspect of taking over his brother’s life from the last scene of their rehearsal (and film) appears in real life of these actors – further enforcing the meta aspect of this black comedy.

Official Competition (2021) is now available to watch on HBO Max.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Read More: 10 Essential Argentinian Films of the decade (2010s)

Official Competition (2021) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
Official Competition (2021) Cast: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, José Luis Gómez
Where to watch Official Competition

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