Concursante | The Contestant
DIRECTOR: Rodrigo Cortés | WRITER: Rodrigo Cortés | CAST: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Chete Lera, Miryam Gallego, Fernando Cayo, Myriam De Maeztu, Luis Zahera | Spain
Concursante is a gleefully irreverent black comedy that equates the entire global financial system to one giant Ponzi scheme. Martín Circo (“circus”) is a university lecturer in the history of economics who wins the largest ever prize on a game show, the problem being that the prize is entirely in the form of luxury goods and services — an 18th century manor house, a personal jet, luxury cars and motorcycles, couture, a trip around the world, the works — and it takes money just to sort through and manage that amount of stuff, money Martín doesn’t have. Just after Martín secures a huge loan from a bank by putting all of his prizes up as collateral, the government steps in and demands 48% of the value of the prizes in taxes: payable in cash. This was director Rodrigo Cortés’s debut film and it’s easy to imagine he was determined to show off every directorial trick he could think of — scenes shot in black and white or with filtered lenses, split screens, slow and reverse motion, direct address to the camera, surreal elements, and the entire film is narrated and bookended in the manner of Sunset Blvd. and American Beauty — but instead of being a stylistic hodgepodge mess it works since he keeps things moving at a brisk, sometimes manic pace and the screenplay is genuinely funny. And Leonardo Sbaraglia is in his element as Circo — can anyone else make manic desperation look both believable and hilariously funny as well as he can and does? Chete Lera as a radical economist who shows Martín Circo a way out of his predicament and Myriam De Maeztu as Circo’s coldly antagonistic department head stand out for their performances.