VIFF 2021 Review: Official Competition

Written by Taylor Baker

82/100

Co-Directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat craft a meta-fictional criticism of art, wealth, and awards. Official Competition begins with José Luis Gómez’s Humberto Suarez, a lavishly wealthy man nearing the end of his life and wanting to create a legacy. Not out of sincerity, but rather because people don’t think of him how he wants them to. He considers erecting a bridge, and humbly naming it the Humberto Suarez bridge. He also realizes he could make a film, the best film, with the best actors, and the best director. Thus Official Competition, a film commissioned by an old wealthy man to control the conversation of his legacy begins.

Infrequent Director Lola Cuevas is brought in. She wants to make a film based on a book called “Rivalry”, which costs Suarez an enormous amount of money. He hasn’t read the book and demands that she explain it to him which is the start of a running gag of his being out of place whenever he’s near the artists whom he commissioned for his vanity project. Lola is a critical darling, and Cruz presents her as a hilariously ludicrous caricature of many of cinema’s most capricious and self-absorbed directors. 

Worldwide superstar Antonio Banderas plays worldwide superstar Félix Rivero and believes that one should have no interiority when acting and simply bring the character to life as best he can in direct response to the instruction of the director. Under-known and under-appreciated Argentinian actor Oscar Martínez plays the opposing brother within the film being made, Iván Torres. He believes in interiority and embodying the character getting in their headspace and the practice of staying in character during the scene. Crying sincerely rather than applying menthol to induce tears as Banderas’ Rivero does.

All three together form a sort of an odd couple. The serious bits of drama and process develop into gags and show-stealing bits of comedy. Whether it’s both actors forced to recite their lines under a rock hoisted up by a crane or a test kiss sound session where both men are laughed out of their test and Cruz shows them the right way to kiss a woman and she ends up on the floor pressed against the actress, who happens to be Suarez the film producers daughter. Which causes him to stumble out uncomfortably. The film in many ways becomes the very text that the filmmakers within it are attempting to create. Playing subversively with various notions and expectations of the audience, both overtly with the roles of the actors playing actors in the film and more delicately with Cruz’s arc as director. Her character leads along the events and delivers heights and lows that neither actor does. Official Competition balances style and performance against a self-aware if reflexive criticism of the process of creating behemoth films all while being fun and rewarding to watch.

Official Competition Trailer

Official Competition was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Written by Alexander Reams

63/100

During the summer of 2017, audiences were inundated with a plethora of mindless films (remember Transformers: The Last Knight). Then came along the dog days of summer where it seemed that nothing worth watching was out. Until a film with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson hit theaters and gave a jolt of life to the summer movie season. The reason that the first film hit so well is that audiences were hungry for a good movie, The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a fun buddy/road movie that had better action and better humor than anyone could have predicted.  After nearly 4 years of waiting, this duo is back on screen together joined by Salma Hayek. 

The newest entry in this franchise also bringing in Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman, and Frank Grillo. While all of these actors together make sense and it’s pleasant to see them in a film together working off each other, you really stay for the comedic trio of Jackson, Reynolds, and Hayek. Bringing in Hayek to the main cast creates a whole new dynamic that I didn’t expect out of this franchise. Of course the big question in the film is “Who is Morgan Freeman playing?” and while I will not give anything away, I will say it was well worth the wait to see his role in the film. 

Despite the pleasant banter and character interplay that is built up throughout the film, it stumbles in its scripting and visual effects. The film constantly falls into cliche after cliche to a point where I was thinking the words that were about to be said and sure enough, I was right. The visual effects are half baked and rear their ugly head a lot in the third act. The action scenes, particularly one in a nightclub, are very well choreographed and filmed. The main reason to watch Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is for the 3 stars together on screen transitioning to a new dynamic from the first film. From buddy road movie to family road movie, yes at the heart of the film it is a family movie. If you enjoyed the mindless action and fun of the first film I have no doubt you would enjoy this entry as well.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard Trailer

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard opens theatrically on June 16th.