The Challenge | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Yuri Ancarani, France/Italy, 2016, 70 mins

Release Date: September 17 (Limited; USA)

Review by James Bartlett

Screening recently at the Melbourne Film Festival in Australia, this scant 70 minutes or travelogue documentary is oddly compelling and almost dialogue-free, which means your focus becomes more on the sounds.

There’s the low roar of countless SUVs driving randomly across the desert like swarms of ants or herds of metal wildebeests, a gold motorbike thundering as its leads the other bikers along an endless road, and the occasional shrieks of pampered falcons on a private jet or a twitchy cheetah on a lead, growling and purring as he’s driven around in a Lamborghini.

We’re in the oil-rich – and apparently idle rich – world of young billionaires living in Qatar, where the ancient sport of falconry is highly competitive. Though there’s not really a strong narrative or character to follow, we head generally towards a falconry competition taking place in the vast desert.

Drones and falcon-cams get us close to the action – competing falcons, all with exotic names like pedigree dogs – are sent after live pigeons, and it’s fascinating to see the jerky, unclear, camera when it’s clear one of them has hit their feathered target.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland last year, it’s a rare look into a playground where everyone seems to be listlessly on their mobile phones, nothing is unaffordable, and falcon auctions are live, big-screen TV events.

The endless vistas covered with SUVs and the immense, almost-unimaginable wealth make this almost a dizzy fantasy that, for its short running time at least, is certainly diverting and revealing, though you do wish we’d learned more about the falcon keepers/trainers.