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Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas make a meta movie in ‘Official Competition’

The Spanish comedy sends up pretentious filmmaking

From left: Oscar Martínez, Penélope Cruz, and Antonio Banderas in "Official Competition."Manolo Pavon/IFC Films

Any review of “Official Competition” should begin with Penélope Cruz’s character’s hair. Plain this mane is not. Really, it deserves its own movie. The Spanish-Argentine comedy is about as far from being a CGI-fest as you can get, but Cruz’s hair is a very special special effect. Its oxblood abundance is torrential, jungley, diluvian, an in-your-face to the very concept of baldness. It’s also gloriously ridiculous, and ridiculousness masquerading as glory — male pomposity and artistic pretension, too — is what “Official Competition” is all about.

Cruz plays Lola Cuevas, one of the world’s great, if also most difficult, filmmakers. “She’s kind of strange,” says the assistant to — well, wait a moment for whose assistant he is. Lola smokes cigarillos, refuses to give interviews, and makes the lives of everyone around her purgatorial, if not hellish.


The Cuevas filmography consists of “The Inverted Rain,” “The Void,” and “Haze.” Imagine seeing titles like that in your Netflix queue. Her IMDb entry is now about to add a fourth, something called “Rivalry.” It’s an adaptation of a novel by a Nobel Prize-winning author. Lola is unimpressed by the story’s pedigree. It doesn’t matter to her what she’s adapting. What matters is that she’s the one doing the adaptation. Whatever Lola wants, Lola definitely gets.

Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz in "Official Competition."Courtesy of Manolo Pavon

The rights to “Rivalry” were bought by a Spanish billionaire (an amusingly sour José Luis Gómez). It’s his assistant who thinks Lola is strange. Having just turned 80, the billionaire frets that he has “no prestige.” How to remedy that? He’ll build a bridge, designed by a famous architect, then give it to the government. But where’s the fun in that? No, he’ll finance a movie instead.

So he buys rights to the novel, hires Lola, and she casts two celebrated actors to play the leads. Low-key and charming, Iván (Oscar Martínez, “Wild Tales”) prefers theater to film, dedicates his talent on the altar of art, and, generally, has an ego the size of Lola’s hair. Félix is a sexy and fabulous movie star. He’s a lot like Antonio Banderas. Conveniently, he’s played by Antonio Banderas. Félix’s ego is also the size of Lola’s hair, only on a humid day with lots of wind. As much fun as Cruz is clearly having, and that’s a lot, Banderas may be having even more.


When the two actors first meet, Felix greets Iván as “Maestro.” If Iván had any sense, he’d reply “Uh-oh.” The title of “Official Competition” alludes to movie prizes. More important, it winks at the unofficial competition between Iván and Félix that drives the movie. Also, remember the title of the movie they’re making is “Rivalry.” The rivals are a pair of estranged brothers, played by Iván and Félix. Method acting, anyone?

From left: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, and Oscar Martínez in "Official Competition." AccuSoft Inc. /IFC Films/IFC Films

Most of the movie consists of Lola supervising increasingly outlandish run-throughs of the script with Iván and Felix, minus any crew. One of the sessions, involving a 5-ton rock, is particularly funny. The rehearsals take place in various monumental yet stripped-down Late Modernist interiors in the headquarters of the billionaire’s foundation. Money-to-burn vanity meets architectural showing off. The settings are as distinctive, deadpan, and droll as the movie itself.

It’s a been a good year for jointly directed films. First, there was Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Now there’s “Official Competition,” directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat. They also wrote the script, with Duprat’s brother, Andrés. So just as Banderas gets to play a Banderas-like character, the two Duprats get to write a movie about a movie based on a book about brothers. Let’s see Lola try to top that.




Directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat. Written by Cohn, Duprat, and Andrés Duprat. Starring Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, José Luis Gómez. At: Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square. 114 minutes. R (nudity, language). In Spanish and English, with subtitles.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.