Directors: Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat (Spain, Argentina). Year of Release: 2022
Humberto Suárez is looking at the presents that he’s been sent for his 80th birthday. There’s something missing – maybe in the presents, maybe in his life. He’s now getting on a bit, and despite the vast wealth he’s made from pharmaceuticals, he doesn’t know whether anyone will really remember him after he’s gone. He considers getting to build a bridge named after him, but then he hits on a much cheaper idea. He’s going to produce a hit film.
Suárez buys the rights to a Nobel Prize winning novel that he’s never read, and commissions Palme D’Or winning director Lola Cuevas. Cuevas tells him that the book, called “Rivalry” is about a pair of estranged rival brothers but the film she will make will be only very loosely based on this story. To fill the leading parts she finds Félix Rivero, an ageing lothario, who earns millions by taking up any old dross that Hollywood throws his way, and Ivan Torres, a serious stage Ac-tor.
The good news is that Cuevas is played by Penélope Cruz, Rivero by Antonio Banderas and Torres by Oscar Martínez. Each of them sends up their own reputation. Antonio, sorry Félix, is more in it for the money and women than any artistic integrity, whereas Ivan, sorry Oscar, is a bit of a snob. Cuevas (quite possibly deliberately) rubs him up the wrong way by repeatedly asking him to repeat his opening line, and giving him abstract and meaningless directions.
Rivero and Torres also share a certain mutual ill feeling which seems to be a mix of hatred and envy. Despite his penchant for action roles, Félix has won more critical acclaim and awards than his rival. While he spends most of his time in sports cars with women half his age, we see Ivan earnestly explaining the theory of acting to his students then returning home with his long-term wife. We’re not entirely sure that this is the life he planned.
While Félix revels in his success, Ivan is much more guarded. Félix relies on spontaneity and doesn’t want to rehearse too much in case this gets lost. Ivan, on the other hand, is methodical and thoughtful. When Lola asks him to cry in rehearsals he refuses to weep on demand, assuring her that he’ll deliver when he has to and not before.
And yet for all Ivan’s claim to belong to some sort of Bohemian anti-Hollywood counter-culture, he is just as vain as Félix. At one stage, he declares: “I don’t want to be the token Latino that puts a bit of colour into an industry for numbskulls.” In pretty much the next scene, we see him rehearsing a speech in which he ostentatiously rejects an Oscar.
Meanwhile, Lola – head covered in a wild bird’s nest of red hair – does her best to provoke both actors using a number of stunts including having them perform with a massive boulder hanging precariously from a crane above their heads. Later she asks them to bring in the awards that they’ve won and throws them into a metal crusher. We’re never really sure whether she’s a genius or a fraud, but her antics do seem to have some positive effect on her charges’ acting.
Der beste Film aller Zeiten is well acted, and who wouldn’t want to watch Cruz, Banderas and Martínez hamming it up and playing for laughs? But here’s the problem. Who really needs a satire about needy, overprivileged actors and directors? This question isn’t entirely rhetorical. A number of people are very interested in this sort of thing, and you can find a disproportionate number among film critics. For most of us, though, are art house film people really that important?
The film manages to be both too hard – lampooning people about whom most of us don’t care too much either way, and too soft – all the actors are obviously in on the joke, which means that the film lacks the savagery needed for the most effective satire. We can’t really hate the characters, because it’s good old Penélope, Antonio and Oscar, and we like them really, don’t we?
We’re left with a film which is asking us to laugh at film making, with all the self-indulgence that this entails. It is trying to have it both ways, and only partly succeeds. By the end, it’s all a bit predictable, and only really has one joke. We start by learning the plot of Rivalry, which the film closely follows. This limits the dramatic tension, especially as everything is flappy and overlong.
And yet all the performances are given with such a sense of vigour that it just about gets away with it. There isn’t enough here to make a great film, but we do have quite a bit of fun on the way.