Athina Rachel Tshangari’s Chevalier is effectively a movie-length pissing contest, with a painfully accurate representation of the fragile egos of men. Six men on a fishing holiday aboard a luxurious yacht invent a game to pass the time. The game formalises what the men have been doing the entire trip, and likely their entire lives, which is competing with each other – seeking validation of their manhood.
The game is called Chevalier, and it involves the men each inventing a contest, which they all then compete in and score each other on. Boat cleaning, pebble skimming, and cholesterol levels are among the chosen competitions. As well as the games, the men score each other in everyday life – from how their hair is combined, to what they eat for breakfast. Everything is measured and arbitrarily judged to decide who is the best man in general – a particularly amusing contest given their close proximity to the site of the first Olympic Games. This is a figurative dick measuring contest that contains a literal one.
Tsangari’s insight into the competitive nature of men and machismo is astoundingly astute, showing the conscious and subconscious ways they constantly trying to assert their dominance. Even before the game of Chevalier begins, they are already competing with each other, the game simply gives them a reason to be overt about it. While they may be all puffy chested and cocky in public, behind closed doors she shows their fragility – how much they actually care about their masculinity being perceived as strong and robust.
Performances are wonderful across the board, with all cast members walking the fine, delightfully playful line between comedy and tragedy. It’s certainly admirable that they are able to keep a straight face given the places that the game takes them. I particularly enjoyed the performance from Makis Papadimitriou, who plays the slightly rotund, less macho younger brother of one of the men. There is a fantastic song-and-dance number in the film’s latter stages that Papadimitriou absolutely kills, winning the admiration of both the audience and at least some of the men.
The humour in Chevalier works so well, in a large part due to the fact that the film plays it straight. The men are deadly serious about this competition, but it never becomes nasty – sure they joke and insult each other, but each individual is more concerned about elevating their own status, than they are about bringing the other men down. In lesser hands this could have been a typical dudebro film with more dick jokes than you could shake a… stick at, but in Tsangari’s hands it is a witty, perceptive satire of masculinity.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Writer: Efthimis Filippou, Athina Rachel Tsangari
Stars: Yorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Vangelis Mourikis
Runtime: 99 minutes