Experience plenty of “Love” with Challengers

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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This week at the Tryon Theatre is “Challengers”, the newest film from acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino, best known for his 2017 film, “Call Me By Your Name”. Luca’s capacity as a director for depicting the complexity and relatability of attraction and desire is almost unrivaled. Romance and lust have always taken center stage in his films, these universal human emotions, equal parts philosophical and base, are beautifully explored through Guadagnino’s cinematography. In this particular film, the romance being examined is that of a love triangle, set between three high level tennis players, as their personal successes and failures find them intertwining, professionally and personally for over a decade. By focusing on professional athletes, especially single performance athletes like tennis, where the spectative pressure is even greater, Guadaignino has found a wonderful thematic analogue to the obsessive drive and sense of personal accomplishment that are inherent to romance. 

In covering a story over a decade, this film focuses more on assembling an emotional language, rather than a linear and informative one. To this end, the film does not employ traditionally structured storytelling, instead jumping between time periods across a 13 year span. Like other non-linear narratives, this film is best experienced as one experiences the flow of water, allowing it to move naturally, and appreciating the beauty therein, a poeticism of images and emotions. A more rigid structure would hinder the film’s rhythm, a rhythm that is electrifying and compelling, propelling the viewer towards a resounding and cathartic climax. 

On the note of the film’s images, their composition is possibly the greatest artistic highlight in a highly laudable film. This film is simply gorgeous, each shot a rich and sumptuous feast of color and crisp detail. The intensity of the sport and the romance are felt in the vibrant and robust fullness of the images, and the cinematography places us right into the thick of it, the intimacy of the camera mirroring the intimate nature of the subjects. 

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Due to the film’s non-linear format, there is minimal foundational plot that can be provided without ruining the film. However, at the simplest take, this film follows two male tennis players, Art & Patrick, friends and rivals, who find themselves smitten with a female tennis player, Tashi. Tashi’s talent and beauty become a point of contest between these two born competitors, each desiring her for their personal gratification, and for the likely elevation of their career. This love triangle provides no shortage of opportunities for scenes of romance and lust, squarely securing this film for a mature and adult audience. But these steamy scenes are not the end all be all of the film, but rather an integral part of the cinematic rhythm the film establishes between the scenes of physical competition, physical intimacy, and shared the emotional currents that bind them. This film is a truly artistic and original work of cinema, and while its daring may give some film goers pause, we encourage you to take a chance on art, and embrace some sexiness, with “Challengers”.