VENICE : The Venice Film Festival got a break from its anguish-filled line-up with Saturday's premiere of "Official Competition", a behind-the-curtains Argentine satire about film-making that had the audience laughing out loud.
In it, an 80-year old billionaire businessman in search of social prestige decides to make a movie to leave his mark.
To fulfil his ambition, he hires the best: maverick director Lola Cuevas, played by Penelope Cruz, and two actors with big talent but even bigger egos.
One is a Hollywood star, impersonated by Antonio Banderas. The other, played by Argentine actor Oscar Martinez, is a high-brow theatre purist, with radical views about celebrity and commercial entertainment.
From the get-go, the two are on a collision course, and the director's eccentric methods for immersing them in character only add to the tension, making for some farcical scenes.
To elicit fear, they are made to rehearse while sitting beneath a precariously suspended boulder. In another scene, the pair are cling-wrapped together for bonding.
Argentine directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn said they wanted to show what happens on set and the tactics actors with different backgrounds use to prepare for rehearsals.
Speaking to reporters after a press screening at the Venice movie showcase, where "Official Competition" is vying for the top Golden Lion award, they said inspiration had come from the personal experiences of their own cast.
Banderas said he once worked opposite an actor who would bellow before a scene. "The first time he did it, I thought it was a cow," he said.
He added that it had been refreshing to make a funny movie at a time when "laughing seems to be forbidden": a reference to the global gloom from the coronavirus pandemic.
The film explores universal themes and emotions, such as envy, under-confidence, competition between professionals and people's relationship with success, he said.
Cruz, who also stars in another competition film in Venice - Pedro Almodovar's "Parallel Mothers" - said it was liberating to interpret Lola, whom she described as smart but a bit of a "psychopath".
"It was somehow a tribute to our profession," she said.
The festival runs until Sept. 11.
(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)