The Challenge, the majestic beauty of ritualised everyday life
by Muriel Del Don
- LOCARNO 2016: With his latest and very powerful film, Italian director Yuri Ancarani continues his exploration of the world as a vessel for ritualised gestures, repeated again and again ad infinitum
The artistic trajectory of Yuri Ancarani is a distinctly rich one. In the 2000s, after finishing his studies at Milan’s NABA (Nuova Accademia delle Belle Arte), he produced a series of videos in which his homeland of Romagna is portrayed with a cold intensity (Fuori stagione and Lido Adriano, amongst others). These works were followed by others in which Ancarani transports us from the North of Italy to the abyss of the Ionian Sea (Piattaforma Luna), on a journey that ends at the symbolic home of Italy’s most sacred sport (football): The San Siro Stadium. Here, Ancarani films the repeated, commonplace and relentless gestures of the workers, who appear to have adapted themselves almost mechanically to an environment that has literally swallowed them up.
The Challenge [+see also:
film profile], presented for the Filmmakers of the Present award at the Locarno International Film Festival, centres around an Arabic cultural tradition that has lost none of its stature in the present day: falconry. Ancarani observes this secret world over the course of three years, capturing its spirit: the return to the void represented by the desert in a society dominated by the chaos of urban life. Our guide in this parallel universe is a falconer who brings his birds to compete in an important tournament in Qatar. The Challenge is a surprising journey into a world in which microcosms of cutting-edge technology coexist alongside the lonely beauty of the desert.
Ancarani’s artistic universe is not easy to categorise (which is precisely what makes it so tantalisingly interesting), but the one thing that all of his works have in common is a fascination (one might say an obsession) with gestures; with repetitive, ritualised actions that, while seemingly banal, suddenly appear magnificent. Through the medium of film, Ancarani is able to reveal the majestic, mechanical and irresistibly lucid beauty of these automatic gestures. The characters of The Challenge are intentionally dehumanised, as if the almost surreal environment in which they live has taken all the life from them. Their behaviour, the movements through which they pass from one point in space to another, seem to lack all meaning: the cars and motorbikes in the desert, the putting-on and taking-off of the leather hoods worn by the falcons; even the ceaseless swaying of the birds’ heads in the air. The cryptic meanings behind these movements make the characters of The Challenge as fascinating as they are memorable. Perhaps it is this superficial gravity that transforms their rich and surprising everyday lives into a vision of pure elegance. In Ancarani’s hands, the audio-visual format becomes a kind of alchemic instrument, capable of transforming mere metal into gold. Under his gaze, the tightly organised solemnity of the characters is swathed in a veil of mysticism that places them almost beyond our reach. The dialogue is sparse, when not entirely absent, as if nobody wants or even dares to disturb the beauty of the images. In any case, these rhythmic gestures, accompanied by a powerful and elaborately crafted photography, render words both superfluous and useless. The audience is free to interpret the images for themselves, without being influenced by the director’s gaze. Truth is not to be found in a theoretical and perilously didactic approach to cinematography, but rather in the power of the images themselves. The Challenge is, in short, a magnificent and unsettling film that tests the limits of what we commonly call “reality”.
(Translated from Italian)