Heralding from Greece, comes this tremendous movie from director Athina Rachel Tsangari and her co-writer Efthymis Filippou (best known for his recent work on The Lobster). Chevalier is clever, satirical, moving and funny.
It’s fair to say though that Chevalier is also an odd, odd film. But a brilliant one too.
The reasons for coming to both of those conclusions are not mutually exclusive. As part satire and part examination of the relationships of modern males it works superbly to show how competitiveness can render everything else irrelevant. But the way it does so employs almost absurdist traditions; there’s something every so slightly surreal about proceedings throughout which make the events even more comic. Filled with a pathos which is undercut with comically entertaining scenes, it is almost heartbreaking in its depiction of masculine idiocy.
And it is a very male film, there are no women on screen throughout its 105 minute running time. We are amongst men very much in isolation. As the tagline has it “a buddy movie without the buddies.”
We are on a yacht with a group of six disparate friends and relations on a fishing trip around the coast of Greece. They decide, on a slightly bored evening, decide to embark on a game that will last the rest of the trip. The game itself consists of every player scoring every other player to find the ultimate “best man”. And winner of the game will win a chevalier ring, and will hold on to it until the next time the game is played. And that’s kind of it.
The challenges and scoring system is nebulous, but if the other judges so wish it a player might lose points for having a beard, or something like taking dull photographs. Points can be gained by doing such prosaic things as drinking water, or having a nice smile. It’s entirely down to the individual player how they judge their friends.
It’s when individuals start setting tasks for the whole group to take part in that things get properly antagonistic, and the true boorish nature of the pack of men confined in a competitive prison comes to light.
The story of Chevalier is unquestionably simple, but is built with a beautifully stark silliness which is utterly charming.
The fact we as an audience find the behaviour of many of the characters so funny underlines how tragic so many of their lives are. The idea that they are playing to find out who is “best” while simultaneously showing themselves to be anything but is wonderfully ironic. This isn’t a cruel comedy of difference, this is comedy of recognition, of empathy. We feel sad for many of the characters while being amused by their behaviour. The way they interact is so bizarre as to be narratively and emotionally fascinating.
Chevalier is a triumph of factors – performances, concept, direction, script and design are all excellent. The cast are uniformly brilliant, although special mention must be made of the heartstrings-tugging performance given by Makis Papadimitriou as Dimitris. He is the heart in the hilarious darkness.
The film deservedly won best film at the 2015 London Film Festival. Released in cinemas on the 22nd July, Chevalier is a fantastically daft film and unlike anything else you’re likely to see this year. It is very highly recommended.