Quick Reviews: 'Official Competition', 'Memory Of Water' | Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Dystopia
Oh boy, haven't we all been waiting and yearning for a movie to finally be about, you got it, making a movie? Well, you might want to stick around for in this particular instance as we're discussing directing duo Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat's Official Competition (Competencia oficial in Spanish), which they also co-wrote with Andrés Duprat. In this satirical comedy about film industry, a peculiar auteur Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) gets a job offer by a wealthy businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) as he wants to produce a film in order to win prestigious awards. Critically acclaimed and serious Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and an audience favourite Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) are then attached as the two stars of the movie, their individual and Cuevas' highly different approaches and methods to their art then clashing against each other.
Like any good actor would know, sometimes the most effective way to do comedy is to act like it's a tragedy, which is exactly why Cohn and Dubrats' satire packs such a punch very consistently in the movie. Sometimes emotions fly high and sometimes Torres or Rivero go to extreme lengths to show off as the real competition often is between the two of them, occasionally involving Cuevas as well. Cruz, Banderas and Martínez all play those beats admirably—as is expected with such prominence when it comes to their names—so it's also understandable that Arnau Valls Colomor's photography usually lets them explore the frame until they also perform the punchlines physically. That sense of humour carries Official Competition for most of the runtime, only slipping away ever so slightly when the text becomes a bit too pretentious, and not in a satirical way, or when Cohn and Dubrat repeat that sentiment with the film's ending. ''What is an ending?'' can be read as too writerly for a film mostly about acting and egos.
Frowneys: Minor issues with tone
MEMORY OF WATER
If you happen to be a fan of really bad or generic taglines, you probably should check out one on the poster for Memory Of Water (Veden vartija in Finnish), a dystopian sci-fi drama directed by Saara Saarela. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Emmi Itäranta, it drops the viewer to a northern town that is under the surveillance of military since fresh water has become a restricted commodity. We're introduced to Noria (Saga Sarkola), a young woman who becomes the new ''tea master'' (person who holds knowledge of a water source) after her father dies. After Noria finds a disk where older generations reveal that there might be water in a place called Lost Lands, she and her best friend Sanja (Mimosa Willamo) try to figure out what to do with this information which happens to threaten the power that the military holds.
As stories about dystopian futures tend to require a lot of visual flair, the film's strong suit thankfully is the way that Saarela and her creative team present the world and its atmosphere. Considering the obvious budget limitations, Otso Linnalaakso's production design is especially impressive in that regard, as it never loses the intimacy of ordinary people's lives while also managing to reach beyond the budget when combining forces with smartly used visual and special effects.
Since the look and action are clearly working overtime, it is a regrettable shame that Memory Of Water mostly falls apart on the pages of its screenplay where writer Ilja Rautsi's dialogue manages to sound like Noria and rest have never encountered another human being before while unabashedly having lines and phrases just as generic as the tagline. This level of unimaginative writing then swallows all the main characters whole, making it really hard to feel anything for them when they face loss, danger or bliss, for example. Maybe the teased sequel will be less watered-down.
Smileys: Production design
Frowneys: Dialogue, characterisation