Chevalier is a wickedly deadpan comic take on masculinity by Greek writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Men all at seaby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Six middle-aged men are on a fishing holiday in a luxury yacht in the Aegean. They are a mixture of relatives – father- and son-in-law, brothers – and business partners. In their wetsuits, they dive and spear fish and octopus, which they beat to death on the rocks before returning on board to pose for photographs. After a dinner cooked and served by the yacht’s two uniformed staff, they get bored and decide to play a game to entertain themselves. They come up with a variation on the game of Chevalier – not who is the best at their just chosen activity, but a competition to decide who is The Best in General, the best at all areas of life.
Slyly, Tsangari shows how their competitive instincts swiftly take precedence over their friendship and social graces. Soon they walk round the boat with notebooks in hand, scoring each other on every petty aspect of behaviour. The camera follows them as they circulate in the enclosed space. They observe how each other sleeps, laughs or sits. They rate ringtones, compare cholesterol levels and each man’s speed in assembling items of flatpack furniture. And of course they measure penis size and – absurdly – erections. Josef (Vangelis Mourikis), who feels he has been unfairly marked down in the first round, excites himself with a sexual fantasy and then wakes them all in the night to appraise how “enduring and engorged” his erection is.
The screenplay, co-written by Efthymis Filippou, (The Lobster) opens straight in without explanation, so it takes some time to differentiate the men before their varied identities and quirks emerge. The Doctor (Yiorgos Kendros), the oldest man, is in charge on the yacht, though disembodied announcements from the captain interrupt regularly. Christos (Sakis Rouvas) is his junior colleague. Yorgos (Panos Koronis) and Josef are business partners. Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) is married to the Doctor’s daughter Anna and chubby Dimitris (Makis Papadimitriou) is his brother, who provides some of the comic relief. There are no women in the film.
Tsangari also directed 2010’s Attenberg and previously collaborated with Filippou on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, two more films of the brilliantly strange Greek New Wave. As part of that, Chevalier may, as well as a sideswipe at male ego and rivalry, be a wider sideways comment on the prevailing political situation in Greece, where everyone, even the two hired staff, gets drawn into the game.
Chevalier won best film at the BFI London Film Festival in 2015.
Chevalier is released on 22 July 2016 in the UK