March 5, 2018  (Web Review)

The Challenge

(2016) 70 min. In Arabic w/English subtitles. DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95. Kino Lorber (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Italian visual artist Yuri Ancarani’s documentary captures an event that reflects the casual extravagance of the super-wealthy in the oil-rich regions of the Middle East: a falconry contest held deep in the desert of Qatar, along with an auction where already-trained birds are purchased at astronomical prices. The sheiks who participate are all extraordinarily well-off: one drives to the event in a sports car with his pet cheetah in the passenger seat (both are later shown lounging on a couch in an immaculately kept tent), while another speeds towards the gathering on what appears to be a gold-plated motorcycle. Most, however, arrive in sports utility vehicles, amusing themselves by conducting races on the sand dunes until the main event. The Challenge ends with a televised flight—some of it shot literally from a bird’s-eye view—of a falcon pitted against a pigeon, as the announcer breathlessly encourages viewers to pray for the contestants. Presumably, Ancarani intends this to be a commentary on how the 1%—not just in Qatar but throughout the world—fritter away their money in search of mindless pleasures to fill the time. But while visually striking, The Challenge is also rather empty at its core. A strong optional purchase. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)