Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Cast: Vangelis Mourikis, Nikos Orphanos, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos
Running time: 105 mins
Release date: July 22nd
The Greek are an odd bunch. Well, that would be the easy take-away from the country’s recent cinematic output anyway. Movies like Dogtooth, last year’s English-language The Lobster, and now Chevalier give the impression of a people with an extremely dark and weird sense of humour, fans of dissecting the quirkiness that lurks behind the thin veil of social normalcy. They produce films that paint portraits of outsiders with odd mannerisms and habits, cast-outs who struggle to find the place that they fit in the world. It can be interesting to wonder how the nation’s films reflect on its people until you realise that they actually reflect on about three of them; Yorgos Lanthimos has become the foremost name in Greek cinema, directing and co-writing Dogtooth and The Lobster with Efthymis Filippou, who in turn co-wrote Chevalier with director Athina Rachel Tsangari, who was herself a producer on Dogtooth. In truth it’s not as much a national industry as it is a little club, and the films are not so much a statement on Greek culture as they are a portrait of the peculiar minds of the few people behind the camera with the power to launch a film internationally.
Tsangari’s Chevalier follows the thematic trends of those other films, giving us a cast of six men on a boat. It’s not entirely clear what their jobs are, but it does seem to entail catching octopi and slapping them off rocks. That’s about all the insight we get, as the rest of the movie is almost entirely confined to the various rooms of the vessel as the men prepare to head home. They decide in their last days on board to enter into a tournament of sorts, a makeshift competition to decide who is The Best. Not at anything in particular, or at a bunch of very particular and unrelated things that will somehow, in the end, add up to prove once and for all who is the greatest of the six. The men set about scoring each other arbitrarily on aspects of behaviour, pulling out their little notebooks to keep tabs when anyone does anything notably impressive or unfavourable. Whether it’s assembling Ikea furniture, maintaining an erection or simply being nice to one another, they will find any way to prove themselves. For the audience the winner is Makis Papadimitriou’s Dimitris, the only truly likable character and the one whose charm elevates the film while the rest of the boats cast sink.
Something about the scenario suggests horror, and in truth that kind of suspense or mystery might have saved Chevalier from being the soporific bore that it is. It won Best Film at the London Film Festival and has earned plenty of praise on its journey to these shores, but in truth it feels more like a case of people following the trend of thinking Greek filmmaking is automatically great than judging it on its merits, of which this particular film has few. If things other people have said led you to believe the film is hilarious, it’s not. You may chuckle once or twice, but the dry humour only really lands a few times, the nuances perhaps getting lost in translation. If you’re expecting some grand statement on the nature of man or society, forget it. The film is thin to the point of transparency, and adds nothing really new to the basic idea that males have a competitive streak. Of the men that lose their clothes in the course of Chevalier, and there are a few, the Emperor is the most noticeably naked of all.