The Challenge Screen 84 of 11 reviews

The Challenge

2016

The Challenge Poster
  • It took a while to register with me that The Challenge is in fact a documentary, albeit a very peculiar one. The elegance of Jonathan Ricquebourg’s photography, which constantly emphasizes the strangeness of what we’re seeing—both through enhanced richness of color and through manifestly crafted compositions—suggests video art rather than documentary of any conventional kind.

  • Despite all the feathery swooping and gunning motors, the flashing gold and pounding sun, these immaculately framed, balanced and photographed images have a tableaulike quality, characterized by a stillness (perhaps cultural or situational) that suggests a memento mori.

  • Art documentary The Challenge may be aptly named as a dramatically-structured piece, but there’s an exquisite visual luxury at play in this loose trip across the Arabian gulf to a falconry competition in Qatar.

  • It excels in tapping the particularly uncanny sensation of a blinded bird perched inside of an aircraft mid-flight. Ancarani’s strain of desert anthropology depersonalizes its subjects at the expense of a universalizing view, the timelessness of the landscape belittling the endeavours of men. The film baits the mythic with the mundane.

  • This world of masculine contests and showmanship, lavish displays of power and prowess, perpetually flirts with the chaos of nature unleashed.

  • A mystifying series of coy and curious impressions, The Challenge is also undeniably playful in its observation of collective and unseen preening. There’s an inherent absurdity in something like a lone TV screen in the middle of a sandy wasteland, and a more constructed kind, when a long take of a room filled with hundreds of swooping birds is accompanied by a bellicose pan flute-enhanced EDM music reaches the grandeur—and terror—of a classic movie epic.

  • The sheikhs chart upscale private jets outfitted with custom falcon seating, drive immaculate Ferraris through the desert next to well-behaved cheetahs, race (and gloriously flip) luxury SUVs in and around roadless sand dunes, and, of course, buy, trade, care for, and flaunt their killer birds. Ah, and did I mention the falcons wear GoPros? This is, needless to say, an original film. It is also wildly delightful.

  • Ancarani crafts a mise-en-scène so exuberant that the film becomes, at times, an unapologetic exercise in stylistic abstraction akin to the sand-and-light formations of Nathaniel Dorsky's seminal experimental film Alaya.

  • A documentary in the Herzogian vein circa Fata Morgana, back before Werner H. decided that his stentorian sarcasm was more useful than his unflinching observation of the strange and unexpected. Filmmaker Yuri Ancarani has more of a formalist bent to him -- he's produced a number of architecturally-oriented short films -- so perhaps that makes it easier for him to hang back and watch. That's not to say that Ancarani doesn't know what he's got here.

  • My kind of documentary: utterly devoid of exposition (or even basic contextualization), formally adventurous, offhandedly witty (love the sharp cut to a tranquil landscape shot that happens mid-car accident, just as a dude witnessing the vehicle roll over clutches his hands to his head in shock), confident enough to let viewers intuit the film's meaning/intention/big idea.

  • Ancarani’s film doesn’t so much revel in the sheikh’s comical excesses as it carefully trains its focus on these men for whom money is basically no object, at work and at rest, with hobbies and chores dissolving into a single stream of exactingly chronicled play. Perhaps what’s most striking about The Challenge is how it forwards an image of men committed to being together and individually pursuing their idiosyncratic, gaudy desires, regardless of the price tag—Hawksian, almost!

More Links