Review: ‘The Challenge’

Hot Docs 2017

2 mins read

The Challenge
(France/Italy 70 minutes)
Dir Yuri Ancarini
Programme: Magnificent Obsessions (Canadian Premiere)


Decadence has rarely looked as gorgeous as it does in The Challenge, Italian video artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarini’s film, which is nominally about a falconry contest among the super-wealthy sheikhs in the world’s wealthiest per capita country, Quatar. Though the main contest is about whose bird can kill a pigeon better, the film is really a portrait of a state of consciousness held by wealthy young men in white robes and checkered scarves, indulging in games of speed, colour and spectacle against a vast canvas of sand.

The wealth on display almost hurts to think about: there’s a private jet, which holds only one man, with separate seats for his falcons, themselves each worth tens of thousands of dollars while a gold Harley leads a team of bikers in the desert. SUV’s spin donuts in the sand, or race up the bank of a dune until one flips on its hood. An ancient sport comes with all the mod cons: during the falconry contest, the men sit on rugs in a tent, check their phones and watch the falcon-cam action on a giant screen.

Composed over three years, The Challenge is elegantly distilled, each image deliberately framed, the rhythm alternating between meditative tranquility and flurried agitation, particularly when the bird has its hood removed and, with a camera attached to its body, is sent forth in search of prey.

The Challenge screens:
-Saturday, April 29, at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto 7, at 6:15
-Wednesday, May 3, at Innis Town Hall at 6:30 p.m.
-Friday, May 5 at Innis Town Hall at 8:15 p.m.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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