Chevalier (2016) by Athina Rachel Tsangari
Review by John McAmis
Another strand to the fabric of a new film movement being coined Greek Weird Wave, Chevalier gives viewers a skewed, comical, and deeply human perspective of masculinity. This new movement includes previous films by Tsangari such as Attenberg (2010) and The Capsule (2012), along with the films of Yorgos Lanthimos like Kinetta (2005), Dogtooth (2007), and The Lobster (2015). Tsangari and Lanthimos often collaborate, acting as producer for each others’ films, creating a stylistic connection between the filmmakers and knitting together the new Weird movement.
Chevalier, at its most basic, is a pissing contest that lasts an hour and forty-five minutes. But Tsangari and the cast enhance this one-liner joke by wandering into the realm of hyperbole. What if men ranked each other not on historically masculine activities like sports, but on the ordinary, everyday activities like sleeping, brushing teeth, talking, or even thinking? The points all add up in the end to determine the “Best in General” and is awarded a Chevalier ring, an object that’s historically connected to a high military rank, royal status, or knighthood for men. The film, adding to its peculiarities of plot, is set on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea. Even when the men return to Athens and dock, the competition for “Best in General” still occurs while the boat is harbored.
Themes and stigmas of masculinity run rampant in Chevalier, and for good reason. With outstanding direction by Tsangari, the film exists to call attention to the toxic ways in which men determine the “manliness” of other men. The contest itself has its roots in this question, though by the end of the film, the activities on the yacht run amok and the question is no longer Who will win? but What will be the breaking point for each contestant? And really, the plot should not be distilled into such simple terms. Family drama between two brothers on the yacht gives the film a sense of grounded reality during the contest’s more ridiculous moments. Additionally, personal problems with one of the contenders and his wife are woven-in to give some substance as well. (There’s no doubt that even these personal dilemmas and relationships are rated and given points by the participants.)
Chevalier, slipping in nicely with its Weird Greek siblings, does an excellent job of keeping one foot just on the cusp of reality while diving into the absurd. For all it’s hyperbole of the masculine mind, viewers still may walk away with the idea that this scenario has or will occur in real life. Like Lanthimos’s The Lobster, the world in the film feels real, developed, and full, though a bit off from actual reality. But maybe there is such a hotel where people are turned into animals. And maybe there is such a yacht that serves as a battleground for men who judge one another on how they sleep or lip sing to a pop song.