It’s Eric, with thoughts on the new art house release, Chevalier.
First seen at the Locarno Film Festival last August, and now in limited release in the US, Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari’s comedy focuses on six men onboard a ship in the Aegean Sea. They challenge each other to an extended contest to see which one of them is “The Best Ever”. They construct a series of games to compete against one another, but take the challenge even further to rate each other on every aspect of their behavior in an attempt to see who is the best man in the group.
It’s a fantastic premise, and Tsangari mines some rich comedy and pathos from it...
The battle between the men is presented by Tsangari with a satisfying lack of empathy towards any of them, while avoiding easy judgments. She finds a droll tone that keeps you off balance, and the humor comes in fits and starts throughout the picture in disarming ways, when you least expect it.
However, the script doesn’t feel shaped dramatically. The contests aren’t particularly inspired, and there’s no force or momentum in the picture. While it’s a relief that the movie doesn’t follow a typical trajectory, you’re also looking for some kind of cumulative drive, or some sort of revelation from the characters. The men aren’t hugely distinctive from one another, and all of the actors have the same beats to play. While the movie challenges the concept of machismo, specifically as rooted within the Greek culture, its attack is largely toothless. When one of the lead characters wonders if his thighs are fat, it doesn’t ring true and feels more like the filmmakers’ version of how they wish men talked.
While Chevalier is interesting and accomplished filmmaking, its dwarfed by two similar but superior recent releases: The Lobster and Force Majeure. One half of The Lobster's screenplay team Efthymis Filippou, also co-wrote the Chevalier script, and his dry humor is front and center in both. The 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure also took on an examination of the male ego in its tale of a husband who saves himself from a potential accident with little regard for his family. Both films go deeper in their explorations and find more disturbing and profound insights than what Tsangari unearths with Chevalier.
Since the majority of Hollywood films embrace and exult male ego, it’s refreshing and exciting when anyone attempts a smart and subversive look at this topic. In that way, Chevalier scores its points, but they’re minor victories.