“Chevalier” is a movie that brings to life the subtle hierarchies of male relationships. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari approaches the fragile ‘ego’ system in this group of men and their obsessions over their function and contribution to the tribe with a detachment that only further enhances the ridiculousness. It’s a time bomb of a film, that doesn’t really hit you until the countdown timer runs out as the credits roll.
Six men are travelling on a yacht together to relax, unwind and lap up the opulence of stay in staff, chefs and island hopping life. When the relaxation, exercise and yarn telling becomes too agonising a routine, one of the men suggests a game, Chevalier. The game involves a series of tasks, one nominated per player, to test each participant. At the culmination the winner receives a Chevalier ring as a prize. In their bastardised version of the game the group decide to prescribe tasks and to measure everything that their companions do for the rest of the trip. When they return to Athens and leave the boat, they’ll tally their scores and crown a winner.
Writers Tsangari and Efthymis Filippa don’t care about the outcome. Once the game is afoot, she’s fascinated by watching the switch flick in the competitors. All of the underlying posturing and continuous affirmation of their position in the group is brought to the surface. The happy accidents of wardrobe choice, hair height and shape, meal selections, even each interaction becomes a delicious vanity play.
The more specific the task to complete, the more fascinating an insight becomes the strange and wonderful ways that these men determine what the ‘best’ man is. Their reflections are hilarious. Putting together IKEA furniture the fastest; can they get an erection by being read an erotic short story; and who looks the best when they’re sleeping?
Each performer does a wonderful job of gradually stripping away their outward personas. Yiorgos Kendros' The Doctor is introduced to the audience maintaining fitness, looking like he's not losing a step. When in fact, he's secretly smoking like a chimney as the competition goes on.
Panos Koronis' Yorgos and Vangelis Mourikis' Josef are the catalysts to this competition, desperately clinging to their vitality and youthful abandon. The game within this game is tremendous.
Makis Papadimitriou's Dimitris is the portly brother of Yannis, tagging along on the journey. He's the one who performs and uses his mind to contend with the alpha spectrum of men around him. Each of his comrades use Dimitris as their sounding board. They all attempt to win him over to their cause; but their perceptions of his weakness provide glorious windows into their psyche.
Yorgos Pirpassopoulos' Yannis is a swinging dick, for him masculinity is defined by conservative, "missionary" masculinity and the confidence to swim in the ocean and use your member as the sun dial. Yannis exploits what he perceives as weakness around him to reinforce his status. Sakis Rouvas' Christos looks like he's got it all. He's being groomed to inherit the Doctor's practice, he's grooming his great looks but when his cholesterol is high he reveals the panic and insecurity fuelling his self-improvement.
Despite all the ways Tsangari and Filippou have reinforced how inconsequential this game is; you're invested. Perhaps realising how intently you're watching this pointless pissing contest unfold makes you realise; "Chevalier" is an unflattering mirror held up to masculinity. Instead of it being hard to look at though, I kept running a Bundini's (Jamie Foxx) line from Michael Mann's "Ali", the truth tastes good when you've got a belly full of lies.