Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Cast: Yiorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Makis Papadimitriou
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A chevalier is one of the highest honours known to man – making it a perfectly ironic leitmotif for Athina Rachel Tsangari’s satire of misplaced masculinity. Six men on a boating holiday decide (out of boredom, petty jealousy or a need for validation?) to hold a contest. Not just any contest, but a contest to decide who is “the best at everything”.
What follows is a fascinating, but flawed, mix of two genres: the laddish comedy of cringe and the Bunuelian surrealism of displaced normality. This is a very high-concept film, and one crying out for an American remake. You can have a lot of fun casting it just from watching the on-screen archetypes that Tsangari unleashes here. But the director shuns the obvious set pieces: there are no crude sequences where a character is disgraced, nor really do many scenes evolve into any kind of major confrontation.
Instead, Tsangari is content to let the film’s rhythm be one of stasis, each game yet another variation on a theme without ever getting closer to an answer. The overriding visual symbol is of the characters continually pulling out notebooks, scribbling grades of the other’s behaviour in silent, but severe, judgement – but Tsangari never lets us fully understand the rules of this game, most likely because there’s no salient logic beyond each man’s subjective envy or cruelty.
The film’s best gag is that the men become so obsessed that they remain on the boat even after it has docked, replacing the gentle sounds of waves and sea birds with the harsh background blare of Athens traffic. There’s a poignancy here, just as there is when the boat docks beside an abandoned hotel. In the light of Greece’s economic woes, do these men actually have anywhere to go? Or are they marooned in this charade, clawing for a status that is meaningless? It’s no coincidence that the men’s biggest fear is of impotence.
This isn’t one of those films where men tear themselves apart in an orgy of self-destruction. There’s nothing shocking or transgressive about their behaviour. Indeed, the slyest joke is that they slip into an ersatz domestication, devolving from alpha male squid hunts to fastidious builders of Ikea furniture. The film doesn’t lack for laughs, but it lacks the killer instinct to itself be the best at everything, even as the muted inertia itself becomes the point of the film. In a film that satirises the idea of being the best, it’s apt that this restrains itself from achieving classic status.
Chevalier is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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