Enjoyable and original film industry satire
- Official Competition review by PD
This satirical piece from Argentine duo Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn is clearly directed at film-festival goers and those involved in the film industry as it traces the fractious pre-production process of an art-house film being made for cynical commercial purposes, effectively puncturing the egos and pretensions of the privileged artist class via strong performances from Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.
The film opens with some of its most savage jabs as we survey the joyless aftermath of an 80th birthday bash for billionaire business mogul Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez), a freeze-dried husk of a man suddenly concerned that he hasn’t left the world anything of lasting consequence. What can he throw money at that will shore up his legacy, he asks? After pondering a bridge built in his name, he settles instead (of course) on funding a film. Suárez neither knows nor cares for cinema, of course, and naturally hasn’t even read the novel on which the film is based — a turgid-sounding family saga about warring brothers. All that matters is that it’s important and acclaimed, and accordingly hires eccentric Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Cruz), giving her carte blanche over casting the leads, so long as they are “the best.” She in turn hires two well-known actors: Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), a dim heartthrob and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez), a highly regarded stage actor from the world of radical theatre, believing their differences will lend the film interesting tension. It's a good premise for the ensuing comedy, for the animosity between Felix and Ivan is immediate, further stoked by the increasingly absurd exercises to which she subjects them. “I suffer a lot through my films,” Lola admits, and she expects the same of her collaborators - this sadomasochistic streak unites the men in a mutual loathing of their director, never more viciously than when, in a wonderful scene, she binds them to their seats and makes them watch as she passes their various acting trophies through a metal shredder. Cruz is obviously having a great time sending up the ivory-tower vanities and mannerisms of the prodigious auteurs she’s worked with over the years, though importantly she doesn’t render Lola a complete cartoon: there’s a human sincerity to her esoteric artistic aspirations, even in such trying and compromised circumstances, that is oddly sympathetic through it all. The two male leads, meanwhile, are neatly united in self-parody.
There's quite a few weaknesses. Inevitably, a lot of the jokes are pretty predictable and so fall a bit flat, whilst the pace doesn't seem quite right and you get that awkward feeling of too many stand-alone scenes rather clumsily tied together. Meanwhile, an awful lot is crammed into the last 15 minutes after a rather improbable plot twist. Nevertheless, on the whole an enjoyable, original piece with many good moments en route.
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.
Film about film-making self-indulgence that's half an hour too long and flogs it's one joke to death
- Official Competition review by Strovey
Argentinian directors, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, bring us a story that is extremely popular with actors, very meta, revealing the underbelly, the workings of the film industry. It is not a new idea so any such tale has to be well-made and have a tad of originality. Herein is the strength and weakness of the film from the start.
Firstly, we are treated to three fine actors bringing their backstage knowledge to roles that in frankness are distinctly unlikeable. Cruz, lovely as ever with a magnificent head of hair, is tyrannical, abusive and bordering on insane as she eeks out a performance from her two leads, Banderas, who surely must have been in these situations in his real life, is a say the words, take the huge salary and go home actor, whilst Argentinian actor Martinez plays the deep thinking, get into the character and really feel the emotion actor, with him it is all about the performance what the audience see and feel, well on the surface it is.
Huge spacious rehearsal rooms, set up with a throwaway comment at the beginning by the financial backer played by Gomez, isolate the action to the three actors making their performances the most important part of the film. Nothing is there to distract you. Again like the story, this is both a strength and a weakness.
From this point on we are treated to funny and annoying Kubrick line readings, the philosophy of both actors and the absolute abusive treatment of them by Lola, in set pieces that start off funny but perhaps start to look demented after two or three turns. Each character gets to show how they react, their hypocrisy and their weaknesses. All done in fine style.
The problem is that they do not seem to grow, you expect Oscar and Felix to find common ground, they sort of do, but then the ground for the story crumbles away in the final act where contrivances lead to one coming out ‘on top’ from a storytelling point of view. A bit trite and definitely not the way the story could have gone. The final moments are so easy to predict that it almost ruins the previous two hours.
The problem with Official Competition is that it is not a bad film or story but not an original take on a familiar tale. The film industry love to make films showing that the films and people are weird a-holes who have no decency and respect for anything (Babylon anyone?) yet all the people involved are A-listers, are they not part of this weirdness or do they acknowledge it and do not care? Every time I see one of these stories it always leaves me, a person who loves watching films, thinking am I supposed to despise these people, feel sorry for them, or ignore it, even if only half of what they show is true?
Overall Official Competition is worth a viewing, the sort of film you probably would not go back to watch again in a great hurry, but just for the main three actors you will get your money's worth, Antonio Banderas is particularly good as the Hollywood A-Lister, you feel he did not have to search too far to find inspiration for his character, and Cruz and Martinez and strong foils.
It is ironic that a film about the self-indulgent, naval gazing, unawareness of making films and those that make them, is a good half an hour too long and overplays the same joke until it is not funny anymore.
For a final footnote if anyone can tell me what was the significance to the story of Irene Escolar doing a sexy dance in front of Penelope Cruz in tiny lacey yellow briefs for a good five minutes I would be grateful. Unless of course it was pointless titillation – surely not?
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.