Review: Official Selection

Score:  A-

Director:  Mariano Cohn, Castón Duprat

Cast:  Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez

Running Time:  114 Minutes

Rated:  R

"When does a film end?"

Rarely is a film as fascinating as Mariano Cohn and Castón Duprat's Official Selection. Boasting three breathtaking performances that embody the egos and vanity of Hollywood, the Spanish-Argentine satire is simple, sharp, and undeniably stylistic.

Penélope Cruz stars as Lola Cuevas, an eccentric but passionate filmmaker who has experienced unprecedented success early in her career. An aging billionaire hires her to direct an adaptation of a novel centered on two combative brothers. Though a highly regarded manuscript, the film will be her interpretation, a vision that begins with two actors who have never shared the screen before: Iván (Oscar Martínez), a high-brow pretentious drama professor who feels most projects are beneath him, and Félix (Antonio Banderas), a global superstar who embraces the fame, fortune, and celebrity that comes with the territory.

To Lola's credit, she believes she can rein in the tension between her leading actors, bringing them together for the betterment of the project. But the pair are particularly stubborn, as witnessed during their initial meeting. Hardly looking at one another, they each balk at the other's process, unable to fully comprehend what each is doing to prepare for their role. When Iván, in the art of the moment, hurls a chair at Félix, it grazes his forehead, resulting in a minor scratch, unnoticeable to the naked eye. That scratch, an attempt to deform the famed actor's "money maker," sets the wheels in motion for nine days of rehearsals that will strain even the most level members of the production.

While all three actors give truly profound performances, from start to finish, Cruz demands your attention. Sitting confidently under a mile-high stack of red curls, she performs with ease, giving us a slightly crazy (but also somewhat sane) view of a creative mind that is rarely required to defend its words or actions. She is easily the smartest one in the room, or at least she believes that to be true, and she is unapologetic in her approach to her limited rehearsal time. In one scene, a five-ton rock, tied to a crane, sits above her two actors as they rehearse. As each man shakes in disbelief and discomfort, Lola stands tall and proud, forcing herself to believe in the end goal, stopping at nothing to get there.

As each actor works to own the spotlight, laboring to upstage the other, Lola refuses to acknowledge the ridiculousness of their actions. At one point, she asks them to bring their most coveted awards to rehearsal, signifying a moment of recognition and appreciation. That moment doesn't play out as expected. Lola trumps both of her performers at every turn—the stunts, grander with each passing rehearsal, crescendo to the pre-production launch party. Here, the film within the film comes into full view, giving witnesses a wink as they watch egotism reign supreme. I'm not confident the casual viewer will enjoy Official Selection to the degree that one should. But alas, Cruz and company ironically deserve a mountain of accolades for their work.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.