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With a title that’s sure to confuse, Official Competition premieres at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 4 — in official competition for the coveted Golden Lion. The comedy, directed by Argentineans Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, stars Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz as a movie star and director who team up to make a billionaire’s dream of producing an award-winning film come true. Banderas’ first time in official competition at Venice came in 1999 with his directorial debut, Crazy in Alabama, starring his former wife, Melanie Griffith. (The couple met on the set of the 1995 screwball comedy Two Much and married the following year; they divorced in 2015, citing irreconcilable differences.)
Based on the 1993 Mark Childress novel, the 1999 comedy drama was set against the civil rights movement in 1965 and follows the escape of a mom of seven in a bad marriage and dead-end existence. Griffith plays the mom, Lucille, who at the start of the film poisons her abusive husband, decapitates him and carries his head around in a Tupperware container. The film also features Meat Loaf as a redneck sheriff who taunts Black protesters demanding to use a “whites-only” public swimming pool. The Hollywood Reporter loved the film, calling it in its review a “winning entertainment largely because of first-time director Banderas’ lively, perceptive and often moody approach to the material” and praising Griffith for “going to town in one of her best roles in years.”
But despite a smattering of other positive notices, critics generally found the whole endeavor hard to swallow. After the Venice screening, the audience responded “with an equal measure of booing and hisses,” THR reported Sept. 10, 1999. The film, budgeted at $15 million ($25 million today), grossed only $2 million for Columbia Pictures ($3 million today) and put Griffith in the running for a Razzie for worst actress (which she lost to Heather Donahue for The Blair Witch Project).
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter‘s Sept. 3 daily issue at the Venice International Film Festival.
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