Challengers (2024)

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Challengers (2024) is a love (melo)drama of a sports character directed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, in which the main roles are played by the American actress Zendaya, the American actor Mike Faist and the British Josh O’Connor.

As a film lover, what I find most fascinating about this film, even before its distribution in cinemas, is the merging of genres. Especially a sports film with any other form of film. Sports movies have always interested and amused me, and bad sports movies are also my guilty pleasure. Because I have been following sports since I was a child and also played it recreationally. As I grew up, movies also became a big interest, the sports movie itself became my object of study.

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This especially applies to Hollywood sports films as much as the cinematography of other countries from Europe to Asia sometimes has artistic supremacy over Hollywood and the USA, I am of the opinion that the Americans themselves still have a special stamp in making sports-themed films.

Sport in itself is dramatic and interesting to show on film, but the tactical and competitive component of sport is in itself very difficult to show in an artistic and dramaturgical way precisely because sport contains all of that in reality. Is it even necessary to add anything to dramatize it? Documentary as a genre is perhaps for this reason ideal for such a thing if you want a realistic representation of sports on the screen.

However, real life is sometimes not interesting enough – this is the first reason why we love movies. Sometimes, sports can serve as a metaphor for life’s situations, joys and difficulties. Conventional sports films will not even try to portray these metaphors too much and will use the dramaturgical tension itself in decisive matches, fights and matches in which the heroes of the film overcome everything. There is always a certain background story that adds to the dramatic importance of the film itself, but it is just that – background.

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As I guessed at the beginning, Challengers as a genre is primarily melodrama. The dramatic significance of the film is focused on sudden reversals in the plot, sudden changes in the situations and behaviors of the characters, and their expressed character. So much so that sometimes it resembles a caricature. However, the fine line between stereotypes and clear characterization of the characters is very difficult to maintain without everything devolving into unintentional humor. Guadagnino makes sure that we are still provided with tension, in the manner of a master of melodrama like, for example, Pedro Almodovar.

In the movie Challengers, former tennis player Tasha Duncan (Zendaya) has to end her tennis career after an injury. At the same time, in his private life, he finds himself in a love triangle with two friends. To make things even more emphatic, they are both tennis players, and she decided to train her husband Art (Faist) and bring him to the top of world tennis. His longtime friend Patrick (O’Connor) remains on the sidelines and is greeted by an uncertain wandering in the world of professional tennis and making ends meet.

The film Challengers has a non-linear structure. It begins with the end of the film and the match between Art and Patrick at the tennis tournament (Challenger), and then goes back to the moments leading up to the very final act. Regardless of the fact that the film tells us everything important at the beginning, there is constant tension – on the one hand, we do not know the outcome of the match, and on the other hand, we do not know the outcome and the complete dynamics of the relationship between these three people. Like tennis and sports, human relationships are dynamic, subject to great changes and at some moments it does not show the true state of affairs and the balance of power, as the sports vocabulary would say. This is what the authors of the film try to tell us subtly, and sometimes quite directly, which is the point of melodrama.

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I would conclude that Challengers is an excellent example of a sports-themed film with hints of love drama, as well as melodrama, and outside of genre and thematic determinants. Guadagnino has made a compelling and energetic film that can be watched countless times. While it’s still playing in theaters, catch it 😉


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