Directed by: Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Written by: Efthymis Filippou & Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Starring: Yiorgos Kendros (The Doctor), Panos Koronis (Yorgos), Vangelis Mourikis (Josef), Makis Papadimitriou (Dimitris), Yorgos Pirpassopoulos (Yannis), Sakis Rouvas (Christos).
The premise of Chevalier is so good that it takes a while for the effect of it to wear off, and you start to realize that the film really isn’t doing all that much with that premise. You keep expect Chevalier to reach the next level, but co-writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari – the talented filmmaker behind Attenberg (2010), a weird, surreal, disturbing comedic look at a warped father/daughter relationship, which garnered attention on the festival circuit, and places her alongside the other major Greek discovery of recent years – Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps, The Lobster). I didn’t think Attenberg was great, but it was good, and made me very curious to see what Tsangari does next. Chevalier isn’t as good as Attenberg – it doesn’t really work very well – but it still makes me curious to see what she’s going to do next.
The film is about six Greek men, vacationing on a yacht. They are all, one assumes, well-off – or at least better off than most of their fellow countrymen, since they are vacationing on a yacht after all. Most of the men go diving – there is one guy, they don’t trust to do so, who is so desperate to be liked by the rest, that they don’t respect him. After their latest dive, they discuss what to do next – decide against cards, one has serious problems with Trivial Pursuit for some reason, before they decide instead on a series of games which will once and for all determine which of the men is the “best at everything” – the winner of which will get the much discussed Chevalier ring. The contests go about how you would expect them to – they start out in good fun, but ends up devolving fairly quickly into petty games of one-upmanship, where the insecurities of everyone are put on display for all to see.
Male insecurity drives so much of modern culture – particularly online, where even the idea of women being allowed to bust ghosts in subject to insane, misogyny – and is talked about a great deal. Yet, rarely is it depicted in the way it is in Chevalier, where the whole thing does eventually – obviously – descend into a literal dick measuring contest. The men in the movie are petty and vain, and are all essentially assholes – and they aren’t young either, so that’s no excuse (one of them is approaching retirement – the rest are firmly in middle age, or headed that way). Yet get them together on a boat, with nothing to do, and they’ll act like lunkheaded teenage idiots.
The problem with Chevalier is though, that once Tsangari establishes that, she doesn’t really have anywhere else to do with her film. The film is deliberately kept low-key – she doesn’t ramp up either the comedy nor the drama, the characters remain archetypes instead of people, and we essentially see one scene after another of them attempting some silly competition that doesn’t really prove anything, no matter how seriously they take it (my favorite is when they have to build a shelf, that looks like it came from Ikea). There is a lot of talk about erections and virility – one guy even struts around the boat, late one night when he is finally able to get an erection, offering to fuck anyone to prove how strong he is. By the end, real and metaphorical blood will have been spilled (the real stuff, probably not in the way you expect it to).
I liked some of Chevalier – I think Tsangari remains an interesting filmmaker to watch. I liked the visual look of the film, which is basically the opposite of Richard Linklater’s Greece set Before Midnight (that Tsangari had a small role in – and was one of the producers). That film captured Greece in all its romantic, magic hour glory. Tsangari was to make everything as bland as possible – there is, after all, no romance here. I also appreciate the overall view of the men in the movie – in Hollywood, when they make films like this, the men are painted as lovable idiots, who just need the love of a good (impossibly good looking) woman to force them to grow up. In Chevalier, Tsangari knows that’s impossible – these men will always be like this. If she had made Chevalier into a half hour short, it may have been brilliant – or if she had found a way to take the film to another level as it progresses, the same thing could have been true. But she didn’t really – so the film remains one with a great premise that squanders it.