The 19th Chicago European Union Film Festival 2016 – CHEVALIER (2015)
written by: Athina Rachel Tsangari and Efthimis Filippou
produced by: Maria Hatzakou and Christos V. Konstantakopoulos
directed by: Athina Rachel Tsangari
runtime: 99 min.
release date: September 12, 2015 (TIFF), October 7, 2015 (New York) and May 27, 2016 (limited)
“Chevalier” is a men’s movie. No, that doesn’t mean there are explosions and relentless action. It’s a movie about men, which is different from what typically passes as a ‘guy flick’ – in American terms – with an all-male cast, focusing on bonding and touching on masculinity. At first, it reminded me of movies such as “The Osterman Weekend” and “The Music of Change”, which are two seldom-seen bro excursions, the difference here is “Chevalier” is directed by a woman – maybe that’s why it feels more accurate.
One could easily add “Chevalier” to the list of films considered as part of the “Greek Weird Wave” of recent years, joining films such as “Attenberg”, “Dogtooth”, “Alps” and the upcoming “The Lobster”. It not only shares writer/director, Athina Rachel Tsangari (who directed “Attenberg” and co-wrote this film with writer Efthymis Filippou, who wrote all of those films except “Attenberg”), but also the bizarre realism of those films. Also like those films, “Chevalier” has a certain dark humor and a disturbing edge to it and I found both the writing and directing here to be quite absurd, brave and strange.
Chevalier” follows a weekend group of Greek guys on a yachting expedition in the Aegean Sea, ranging in varied age and socio-economic status. These friends are highly competitive and wildly insecure as they push each other from reasonable levels of bravado to machismo displays that border on insane. The group kick off their time together with a series of benign games they soon become bored with and then decide to up the ante by partaking in an impromptu game called “The Best in General”, where they are compare the best: hairy chests, erections, hemorrhoids and receive points for specific tasks and stunts (like drinking a glass of water and assembling an Ikea shelving unit without instructions). You can see the potential for a vary bizarre and strange tone, yet its all played straight by the actors, which make it either more funny or disturbing (depending on the viewer).
As time passes, friendships are fractured and the true natures are revealed. Within the slow burn that turns into a maelstrom of male ego and pride, it’s clear all of these men are trying to prove something to each other as compensation for past disputes and current self-assessments.
I was surprised how much I liked this film due to its weirdness, then I realized it was mainly because of its weirdness. People are strange, but men are weird. While “Chevalier” is a film that could use some trimming in the middle, it’s overall meandering is part its unsuspecting charm that creeps on you (that is if you’re up for this sort of thing).
The film played last fall at the TIFF and was named the Best Film in the Official Competition at the London Film Festival last fall as well. You have one more chance to catch it here in Chicago – tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 8:15pm.