Yuri Ancarani’s beautiful and bizarre film takes us inside the rarefied world of Middle Eastern falconry. Here the sport attracts passionate devotees from the Qatari hyper-rich who compete at auction for the best birds, drive deep into the desert to train their charges, and then assemble in Mad Max-style stadiums for spectacular tournaments. Shot in stark observational style and with a soaring orchestral score, the film revels in the brilliant colours of the desert, filling the screen with eye-popping visuals. Beyond the landscape there is the spectacle of the bizarre lifestyle of the film’s extravagantly wealthy subjects: including a cheetah riding in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini, falcons flying in luxury aboard private jets, and a gold-plated Harley Davidson. It all climaxes with a literal bird’s eye view of the desert as a falcon fixed with a camera tracks its prey and secures victory for its owner. You won’t see a more visually striking film this year.
But for all its spectacle, the film — which won the Special Jury Prize at the Locarno Film Festival last year — cannot avoid implicit social commentary. As the film showcases the over-the-top lives of the fabulously wealthy, one is struck with disquieting thoughts of what is not on screen: the migrant workers building much of the infrastructure these falconers need to pursue their hobby, and the sisters, wives, and mothers of the men inhabiting this exclusively male world. The absence of these people from the screen combined with the pornographic displays of luxury remind us that obscene wealth is just that. -JC