The Challenge

Directed by Yuri Ancarani

Director Yuri Ancarani crosses the Persian Gulf to accompany a falconer to an important competition, entering the surreal world of wealthy Qatari sheikhs with a passion for amateur falconry. The opulence of this Middle Eastern gas state is on full display as the men race SUVs up and down sand dunes, fly their prized falcons around on private jets, and take their pet cheetahs out for desert spins in their souped-up Ferraris.

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  • ★★★★ review by Mark Atkins on Letterboxd

    I'd say watch this for the amazing shots of when you mix obscene wealth, utter boredom, and birds... but I think equally enticing is the first 5 minutes of music. I wish they could have carried more of that through the short run time.

  • ★★★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?"

    "Birds."

    "Like birds attacking?"

    "No just birds."

    "Talking birds...?"

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

  • ★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd

    [7]

    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.

  • ★★★★ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd

    Wonder if Yuri loves falcons

    as much as ol' Billy from Kes.

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