Original title:Challengers
Director:Luca Guadagnino
Running time:131 minutes
Release date:26 april 2024
While studying, Patrick and Art fall in love with Tashi. Friends, lovers and rivals all at once, their paths cross again years later. Their past and present collide, and previously unspoken tensions resurface.

Mulder's Review

In Challengers, Luca Guadagnino delves into the world of competitive tennis, but not to showcase the sport itself. Instead, tennis serves as an elaborate dance of emotions, a metaphorical battleground for a gripping psychological and emotional conflict between three intimately linked characters. Anchored in a tumultuous love triangle, the film highlights not only the physical vigor required by the sport, but also the intense psychological resilience needed to navigate the personal relationships that are forged within it.

Challengers unfolds in a non-linear narrative, echoing the unpredictable, fast-paced nature of a tennis match, where points are won and lost, and momentum shifts rapidly. At the center of this tumultuous tale are Tashi (Zendaya), a former tennis prodigy turned coach, and two professional tennis players, Patrick (Josh O'Connor) and Art (Mike Faist), whose past and present relationships with Tashi form the heart of the plot.

The director uses sport as a canvas to paint the emotional volatility of his characters, where every serve and return is fraught with underlying tensions and unresolved past grievances. The narrative ricochets between past and present, revealing layer upon layer of the emotional texture that defines these relationships. Luca Guadagnino masterfully captures the moments of silent desire, unspoken resentments and raw nerves that the characters expose to each other and to the audience.

Luca Guadagnino's direction in Challengers is both intimate and intense, using close-ups and rapid cuts to draw viewers into the inner landscape of his characters. His cinematic style, combined with Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's vibrant photography, accentuates the film's physical and emotional intensity. The camera lingers on the sweat and tension on the players' faces, the clenched fists, the nervous glances - details that reinforce the emotional stakes of the story.

The visual narrative is complemented by an evocative score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose compositions imbue the film with a rhythmic pulse that reflects the ups and downs of a tennis match and the emotional volatility of the characters' interactions.

Zendaya delivers an outstanding performance as Tashi, navigating a complex character arc with finesse and depth. Her interpretation of Tashi's transformation from controlled, ambitious athlete to manipulative coach is nuanced and convincing. Zendaya's Tashi is a strategist, who uses her past wounds and deep understanding of the game not only to coach, but also to manipulate the two men in her life - a former lover and a current opponent.

Josh O'Connor's Patrick is charismatic and impulsive, his face often betraying his character's inner turmoil. Josh O'Connor brings a brittle intensity to Patrick that makes him both magnetic and slightly tragic. Mike Faist's art is the perfect counterpart to Patrick's volatility, offering a portrait full of subtlety and vulnerability. Mike Faist's performance is grounded, portraying Art as a man caught between his past loyalties and present responsibilities, his quiet love and his competitive side.

At its core, Challengers is about the intersection of love and competition, the primal instincts these two forces unleash, and the losses incurred when the two are intertwined. The film explores themes of desire, manipulation and the commodification of athletes' bodies and emotions. Luca Guadagnino critically assesses not only the personal dynamics of his characters, but also the broader implications of their public role as athletes in a highly commercialized arena.

The love triangle serves as a microcosm for broader societal and psychological themes, including the exploitation inherent in professional sport and the emotional labor demanded of athletes. The relationships between the characters are marked by power plays that mirror their battles on the court, where love and tennis are both win-or-lose games at devastating cost.

Challengers is a richly textured film that combines the aesthetics of sports cinema with the emotional depth of psychological drama. Luca Guadagnino has created a visually stunning and emotionally wrenching film that is a profound commentary on the nature of relationships, whether amorous or competitive. The performances, especially Zendaya's, are captivating and add layers of complexity to a film that is as intellectually stimulating as it is visually compelling. 

Challengers is not just a sports drama, but also a poignant exploration of the human condition, making it a must-see for its bold storytelling and the formidable talents it showcases, both in front of and behind the camera. This complex and raw film doesn't just entertain, it also invites viewers to reflect on the delicate balance of life's games, where heart and scoreboard aren't always in sync.  You'll love it, and once again admire the sheer talent of Zendaya and this trio of talented actors.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by Justin Kuritzkes
Produced by Luca Guadagnino, Rachel O'Connor, Amy Pascal, Zendaya
With Zendaya, Josh O'Connor, Mike Faist
Director of photography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Editing: Marco Costa
Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Production companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Pascal Pictures
Distributed by Amazon MGM Studios (USA), Warner Bros. Pictures (International)
Release dates: March 26, 2024 (Sydney), April 24, 2024 (France), April 26, 2024 (U.S.).
Running time: 131 minutes

Seen on April 6, 2024 at UGC Normandie, room 01

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