Banderas, Cruz poke fun at film biz excesses at Venice

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Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas rip into their own industry with abandon in their new film "Official Competition", which left critics in stitches Saturday at the Venice Film Festival.

The film, directed by the Argentine duo of Mariano Cohn and Gaston Dupra, misses no opportunities to skewer showbiz quirks and excesses.

From actors with fragile egos and petty rivalries, to directors who use unconventional methods to prod their actors -- like making them rehearse underneath a five-tonne rock to increase dramatic tension -- the satire is the ultimate insider's guide to the worst of movie-making.

"It was really liberating, really fun," Cruz told journalists in Venice.

She plays an eccentric, bohemian director seeking to impose her vision on her two leading men, whose gigantic egos immediately clash.

Banderas brilliantly lampoons himself as a top Latin film star who has made it big in Hollywood, while Oscar Martinez plays a respected theatre actor who thinks himself too serious for trashy blockbusters.

"Art, that's the theme," said Banderas. "To be able to ridicule the excesses that in some way are used to arrive at art."

Martinez confessed the cast had a hard time keeping a straight face during filming: "We had so much fun sometimes we had to stop the sequence."

- Provoking performances -

Cruz's character, who has a mane of frizzy red hair, puts her actors through hell in rehearsals.

In one scene, as the mutual animosity of the two wildly contrasting actors is at its apex, she literally encases them together in plastic wrap to increase their interdependence and bond.

In another rehearsal, the two actors hurl increasingly over-the-top expletives at each other to tap into their rage.

"There were so many bad words, insults, cursing that I think at some point we had to write them down," Banderas told reporters.

"I think some of them were really unbelievable, there are things I heard on the streets of Malaga and started throwing them out -- there was a little bit of improvisation."

Cruz was careful to caution that the cast and directors of "Official Competition" were not out to offend the industry in which they work.

"It's a tribute to our profession. At no time is it a parody, nor is it disrespectful to the actor," said Cruz.

Banderas, meanwhile, hastened to set one thing straight about the narcissistic character he plays.

"Some writers might hint at it. But he in the film is not me."

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