tue 16/07/2019

Chevalier | reviews, news & interviews

Chevalier

Chevalier

Greek masculinity is tested in wry, weird maritime comedy

Male bonding: the cast of Athina Rachel Tsangari's 'Chevalier'

The opening shot of Chevalier trains the camera on a rocky beach surmounted by overcast skies. A dark form emerges from the water, then another and another. They're like creatures from the primordial soup making land all those millions of years ago, but actually they're scuba divers who happily pose with their catches before clubbing them to death. They return to the floating palace on which they are holidaying off the Greek coast, and strip off one another's rubber pelts to expose the tender white middle-aged flesh beneath. 

It turns out that the trip is an annual bonding ritual, but this year things turn out different. The yacht’s daily rhythms are no sooner established, and the hierarchies of power established, than one of them proposes a formal competition to establish which of the six is what they call “the best in general”. The winner will gain possession of a signet ring, but only after he has endured the constant scrutiny of his peers, who are one another's judging panel. Among the areas of competition are the construction of flatpack CD stacks, deck chores and durability of erection, dancing, cooking tips and attitudes to life revealed at table.

The contestants include two brothers: one is short, fat mother’s boy Dimitris (Makis Papadimitriou), who obsessively collects pebbles and lacks the gift of friendship; his older brother Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos; both pictured below) barely suffers his presence and is the son-in-law of the Doctor (Yorgos Kendros), the oldest contestant who keeps his ticker busy by strenuous turns on the rowing machine. Also on board are a younger colleague of his and two business associates.

It’s not initially easy to tell them all apart – three have beards, three are clean-shaven – but individual quirks gradually emerge as anxieties are exposed. Most obviously there is the erectile dysfunction of the hairiest, most overtly macho of them, who finally raises a hard-on to measure against the others' by talking to himself arousingly, only to discover that everyone else is asleep.

Chevalier is the third film of writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari. Her last was Attenberg (2010), a deeply quirky study of female alienation. With the help of scriptwriter Efthymis Filippou, she seems to have the measure of men too. (There are no women here apart from a wife’s looming tongue as one of the men has awkward Skype sex. The yacht staff who act as a sort of Greek chorus are all male.)

The film is at its most persuasive as a goofy comedy, personified in the pathetic Dimitris fighting for approval by any means – performing a hilarious mime to Minnie Riperton’s classic 1970s soul ballad “Lovin’ You”, attempting to overcome his fear of needles. But the tone sometimes migrates into darker terrain echoed in the dim, washed-out palette of cinematographer Christos Karamanis: this is not the Aegean of your summer holidays.

The early shot of the men smashing the fish heads on rocks threatens something more elemental than it actually delivers. It swerves away from the chance to ponder Hellenic homoeroticism, and refuses to lose sight of its essential civility. This is perhaps the point. Any film emerging from debt-ridden, crisis-bound Greece these days cannot avoid being scoped for metaphorical intent by international audiences. But if it offers a commentary on contemporary Greek machismo in an emasculated society, its intentions are opaque.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Chevalier

 

The early shot of the men smashing the fish heads on rocks threatens something more elemental than it actually delivers

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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