Economic crisis birthed a Greek New Wave with Athina Rachel Tsangari leading the fore. Historically, she has written, produced and/or directed many of the films associated with the Greek film industry resurgence – Dogtooth, Alps, Attenberg (and acted in Before Midnight too with her lead actor Panos Koronis). She and fellow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) screened at this year’s LFF.
Tsangari’s last cinematic outlets Attenberg (2010) and her 2012 short The Capsule heavily featured females and their place in – and on the periphery of – the world around them; the director’s next concentrates on the adult male. In spite of its gallic sounding name, Chevalier is very much Greek. Set upon a yacht amid the Aegean Sea and a palette of pale greys and marine blues, it is like Attenberg in that the look is minimalist playing against the backdrop of the Aegean and the insular interior of the boat.
We never find out what brought these men together, or why they decided on a boat-trip. There are indications as to how they know each other: the Doctor and his handsome predecessor, the Insurance salesman nudist son-in-law, and his loner-genius brother who cannot go into the water (although, we never find out why), the one who spends an inordinate amount of time on his hair, and his pal; they are all friends of sorts. Growing tired of the tedium of card playing and incongruity of asking each other what fruit they see each other as, they decide to make things interesting and create a new game – who is the best in general? They start marking each other on everything, from sleeping posture, the ability to make an IKEA shelving unit, to the size and girth of their erections. The Chevalier of the title is referenced by a signet ring, often worn by French nobility and although its meaning varies depending upon which culture it inhabits, it is also a decoration given by a Patriarch of the Orthodox Church/Knight/Nobleman. You get the gist.
Co-written by Efthymis Filippou (Alps, Dogtooth) which may give an indiction the absurdist direction the film will veer. As to the journey, we’re all along for the boat-ride. To see these men primp and preen is a riot and even I relished (and perhaps snorted) at the male insecurity and ludicrous machismo on display as characters start to examine themselves in the mirror and bemoan the size of their thighs; an anxiety usually associated with female culture.
There is little guidance in relation to interpretation; the film can be read in socio-political terms especially when the game catches on with the boat’s chef and porter but Tsangari never leads one way or another. Friendships will be tested and manipulated, blood bonds broken and formed as the best man overall is discovered.
Chevalier is a rebellious, brilliantly mordant and shrewd satire of the male ego. It is absurdist, surreal in parts, and hilariously droll from start to finish. It takes an astute filmmaker to hold a mirror up to society and provoke laughter and it will make you laugh. A lot.