June 27, 2024 review

Passion. Tension. Match point.

Anatolii Mishustin in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rating: filled star filled star filled star filled star empty star

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'Challengers' (2024) directed by Luca Guadagnino

Picture courtesy of: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

A couple of years ago, I caught a tennis match live on TV.

I thought to myself: Why is it so quiet? Where is the crowd cheering for each player? Why are the only sounds grunts, and the loud thuds of rackets sending the ball back and forth?

Then I realised it’s all about tension and concentration.

In his autobiography Open, the American tennis player and former world number one Andre Agassi wrote that, in the world of sports, tennis is the closest you can get to solitary confinement: ‘In tennis you stand face-to-face with the enemy, trade blows with him, but never touch him or talk to him, or anyone else’.

That sense of tension only adds to the desire-ridden love triangle that Italian director Luca Guadagnino paints in his sexy sports drama Challengers.


The film follows the final match of the Challengers Tour in New Rochelle, New York, between former best friends Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). With Art’s wife and coach Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) in the stands we quickly realise that, despite the physical detachment of the players in the match, this is nothing like solitary confinement.

Jumping back and forth in time, we come to understand that the relationship between the three characters runs deep. It all started when the inseparable Art and Patrick competed in the US Open and saw the young superstar Tashi compete, both immediately falling for her. This resulted in a night of making-out between the three of them, and the audience left wondering whether Art and Peter might be more than friends.

Since then, they’ve been f**king each other on and off the court and the story is gradually built up, leading to both a figurative and literal climax. This is because the film is not really about tennis, but about the tense, to-and-fro relationship that tennis represents.

All this is supported by the script of the film. It’s rightfully said that Tashi never talks about anything besides tennis but even when this isn't center, tension is built into the dialogue. Every. Conversation. Is. Built. Like. A. Tennis. Match.

Don’t believe me? Listen to the list of intensifying club music written for the film by award-winning film composers Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, which will make everything abundantly clear. The score deserves its own separate praise for how well it fits into the character of the film – it’s undoubtedly one of the duo’s best works.

All of this makes Challengers feel like a love-making session. Not in a cute, romantic way, but in a lustful, sexually charged manner where actual sex would feel as no more than just foreplay. Guadagnino’s direction makes every point of tension filled with erotic subtext – even the scene of eating a churro felt unholy and dirty.

At match point – where we get to see the game from the perspective of the ball itself – I felt the anticipation in me build. So much so that, after the final shot, all I could let out was a heavy sigh of relief.

Written by:


Anatolii Mishustin

Film critic

Kyiv, Ukraine | Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hailing from Ukraine, Anatolii was born in 2006 and now resides in Amsterdam while getting his diploma. Moving to the Netherlands was a decision first and foremost motivated by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Anatolii keeps his hand on the pulse of modern media and underground culture, that’s what grows his interests and ambitions each day. He joined Harbingers’ Magazine in 2023 to challenge himself in this area to explore cultural journalism, and quickly established himself as the lead film critic for the magazine.

His work also secured him an invitation to the first edition of the Harbinger Fellow programme with the Oxford School for the Future of Journalism.

In his free time, he enjoys basketball, watching films, and playing video games.

Anatolii speaks Ukrainian, Russian, English, and is learning Dutch.

Edited by:


Cressida Anness Lorenz

International Affairs editor

London, United Kingdom


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