The Challenge

Directed by Yuri Ancarani

Falconry has a history that stretches back over 40 centuries. In the West it was a prevailing passion of the medieval aristocracy, but its prestige continues undiminished in contemporary Arab culture. Three years of observing this form of hunting in the field have made it possible to capture the spirit of a tradition that today allows its practitioners to keep a close rapport with the desert, despite their predominantly urban lifestyle. Our guide to how they cross that threshold is a falconer taking his birds to compete in a tournament in Qatar. In the glaring light of an empty landscape, following flight lines and lures, the film recounts a strange kind of “desert weekend”, in which technological and anthropological microcosms hang in the air, like the falcon, drifting on the irreversible currents of images.


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  • ★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd

    Ladies and gentlemen, this documentary is for the birds.

  • ★★★★½ review by Wesley R. Ball on Letterboxd

    "Hey man, I thought of a new film it's the best thing ever."

    "What's it about?"


    "Like birds attacking?"

    "No just birds."

    "Talking birds...?"

    "No just birds. Long and lustful shots of beautiful, beautiful birds. And maybe some motorcycles too."

  • ★★★★ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd

    Wonder if Yuri loves falcons

    as much as ol' Billy from Kes.

  • ★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd


    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. From the opening titles that directly mimic Weekend-era Godard to the long shots of dozens of SUVs in the desert, scrambling in and out of formation not unlike the Chrysler Building sequence in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, The Challenge refuses to explain or otherwise normalize the young men's games on display.

    And why should he? We're seeing the sons of oil magnates with too much time and money on their hands, rolling in Qatar-based motorcycle gangs with gold-plated Harleys, or driving down the desert highway in a Lambourghini with a pet cheetah in the passenger seat. This is empty macho posturing of the worst sort, a vain attempt to manipulate nature just because all other risk and rewards have been exhausted, or simply bought and paid for.

    Falconry is a logical consequence of this type of idleness. The birds are hunters, but their new masters apparently have nothing left in their lives to hunt for. Like the falcons, these young Arab capitalists are kept men, well-fed and hooded until their time to assume their dynastic role. So for now, their every hunt is a set-up, their quarry a clay pigeon which happens to be very much alive.

  • ★★★½ review by Kenji Fujishima on Letterboxd

    I reviewed this solid documentary for Paste here. Really, though, Yuri Ancarani's film plays more like an experimental film than a documentary, though, for better and for worse (mostly for better, imo).

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