Greek cinema has started a small, but powerful movement in film satire. As I mentioned in my review for The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Chevalier director, Athina Rachel Tsangari, came into the arthouse scene by storm with the Oscar nominated Dogtooth, and Tsangari’s equally transgressive debut, Attenberg. Tsangari proved to be as big a talent as Lanthimos with her tale of sexuality and grief, ultimately gaining attention at the Venice Film Festival with a nomination for the Golden Lion. With Chevalier, Tsangari creates another story with sadness and reality, but doesn’t lose the humour that are found in the repertoire of the previous films in the Greek new wave, perhaps with even more laughs than before.
Chevalier revolves around the lives of six men on a fishing trip. These men, while bored one night during a power outage on the boat, decide to play an elaborate game involving, scoring each other on their looks, manner, personality, among other superficial things all with one outcome, find out which is the best of them all. Tsangari goes for the same type of exhaustive set-up that is featured in The Lobster, but with a little more simplicity. The rules are never entirely explained, because that would detract from the overall message of the film, or rather critique of the society in which we compare each other.
The critique goes even further than that. Without preaching into feminism or showing a hatred of men or the characters in the film, we are shown the ridiculousness of one-upmanship and the effects on each person. It can complicate the lives of family members and friends in general, it can even drive us mad. Chevalier tries, and succeeds, at coming up with some pretty inventive competitions for the cast of men, my personal favourite involved who could clean the lounge room the best. It is slightly worrisome wondering when the obvious dick measuring will occur, but this is saved for a particularly hilarious moment and takes drama out of the reaction of one man in particular, without taking away the hilarity.
Tsangari has done away with the deadpan that was known to exist in past films of the Greek New Wave and has inserted a greater sense of outrageousness. The monotony may have been one of the defining factors in both Tsangari and Lanthimos’ films, but the feeling has not gone away. Long shots and moments of silence are still apparent, making sure not to be too jarring to anyone familiar with the previous work. The satire is still strong and bold as it always was.
If there’s anything that feels missing in Chevalier, it’s a sense of humanity. Each character may have a personality and defining trait, Chevalier rarely gives you a moment with the characters and define their personalities past being the chubby inept one, or the strict smart one. It’s fairly ironic that when you remove the deadpan from a film, you also lose a fair share of humanity and life from each individual, sure, the ideas are still present, but they’re also less effective because of that. Tsangari’s message may be potent, but it’s lost in the lack of development.
I can’t disregard how funny Chevalier really is. There are laugh out loud moments from one scene to the next and it could rival quite a few modern comedies in terms of laugh per minute ratio. Each scenario to compare each other almost feels like a set-up for the various jokes, but these jokes are mixed in with a sense of understanding on what makes them funny and how to make them work in the context of the film. Without a prior scene, the joke might not work, but because of that scene, it does, and that’s the strength of the script.
Tsangari may have lost her emotional centre with Chevalier, but she has gained a new sense of access with her established sense of humour. While it comes as a mixed trade off, it shows us that Tsangari can almost perfectly adapt to any particular genre in which she chooses to explore. Chevalier is a brutal cut into the insecurity and false feeling of being a “strong” man and reconciling the fact that we can’t be the best at everything, or maybe we’re the best at nothing at all. This film may be a mixed bag, but I’m still excited to see what she comes up with next.