Chevalier | Athina Rachel Tsangari | Greece | 2015 | 99 minutes
Edwanike Harbour examines the latest entry in the “Greek Weird Wave” from Athina Rachel Tsangari, the director of Attenberg (2010). The combination of masculine hubris and tedious minutiae on a boat occupied by men on fishing expedition generates a slow burn that can be viewed as a political allegory. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari is scheduled to attend the Wisconsin Film Festival screenings.
Add another film into the pantheon of hypermasculinity (in this case hypomasculinity) as Chevalier takes an absurdist look into the lives of six Greek fishing buddies. While the Wisconsin Film Festival has excelled over the years in bringing some of the best Scandinavian comedies, the Greek Weird Wave (Dogtooth, The Lobster) may be a new genre for many Festival audiences. Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier is more of a slow burn that may take a day or two to settle in order to really appreciate it.
The film takes a close look at six male friends who are off on a fishing excursion together. Based on their style of dress, activities, and carefree lifestyle, they appear to be men of means. The nature of their friendships wax and wane over the course of the next 99 minutes. They pass the time by playing little games: if one of them were a piece of fruit or clothing, which one would they be?
This evolves into a competition in which the men acquire points to determine who is The Best in General. The film’s title refers to the Chevalier ring, which the victor is supposed to wear between each competition. The men keep a little journal adding and docking points for just about everything.
We are talking about six Greek men isolated on a boat here so you can imagine some of the territory that we wander into. But instead of typical manly feats of strength, the men focus on who knows how to caramelize onions or has the best sleeping posture. As we watch the men compete over the tiniest bits of minutiae, it becomes downright bizarre.
The entire film takes place on the ship, which could have made for a very claustrophobic experience. Tsangari injects just enough comic relief, and some of the men’s own insecurities offer a weird form of release. Virility can be assessed by many means, the film suggests in an absurd but playful way.
The film’s greatest strength is demonstrating that truly not one of them is really The Best in General. All six men have some strength or weakness that is central to their own character and when that strength is needed to help the group the most, it reveals itself. In the midst of an absurdist competition, the men still support one another even when presented with opportunities to destroy one another physically and emotionally.
Admittedly, there are stretches where the dialogue begins to meander in a way that leaves you wondering where a scene is headed. The movie really isn’t too cerebral and some of the minutiae in the dialogue drags on too long. Even if intended as humorous, it becomes tedious after a while.
The singular focus and almost obsessive nature can also be viewed as an allegory for the chaos and destruction that led to the tumult in Greece’s economy. The men have such a narrow focus on their competition, they lose sight of their fragile relationships. Those blind spots that need to be addressed give way to bravado and hubris.