Low-jinx on the High Seas in Shallow Buddy Comedy Chevalier

Six men in diving suits thrash and splash around in the Aegean sea. The camera follows the divers as they manage, with some effort, to drag themselves ashore. Then turning to the business at hand, the men begin to beat the life out of squids and seaweed, they’re thorough in their work, the process is exhaustive and we have little choice but to watch it all. This early sequence from Chevalier is indicative of the deliberate and methodical pace that you can expect from this Greek art house comedy from Attenberg director Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Chevalier is in cinemas now. - HeadStuff.org
Chevalier is in cinemas now. Source

The action then moves back to a luxury yacht. The men help each other out of wet-suits and already we see hints of separation within the group. Chevalier is a film exploring tension among strangers and friends, there is a clear hierarchy on show here. The Doctor, the eldest of the group and the owner of the boat favours Christos, his son in law, the rest of the men fall in line.

The interior of the boat gives us a view of the men’s inner lives. Each cabin provides the men some privacy, some engage in cybersex, others workout or prioritise sleep over anything else. What’s clear from the films earlier moments is that despite their proximity and seeming friendship these men are drifting apart.
At dinner the men bicker about what animals they resemble. Tensions reach a high point, despite the superficial air of politeness, as the group enter into a competition to see who is ‘the best at everything in general’. Each man decides on a test for the others and a running tally is kept of the score. The winner will receive the Doctor’s Chevalier ring. With two days to go before the yacht reaches Athens, loyalties are tested as friends become frenemies.

There is a gentle ramping up of the competition. It begins with comparisons of underwear, judgements on eating habits and general etiquette but moves to speed-cleaning competitions, IKEA shelf assembly challenges and the measuring competitors’ penises. The deadpan comedy that is so typical of the Greek New Wave goes a long way to saving this film that often plays like a Three Stooges short without the eye-gouging or nose-twisting. Instead, we are made to laugh at the desperation of the men, the futility of the competition and the folly of their macho posturing.

Why can’t the Doctor have a cigarette now and then? Why is Yorgos judged for his salad preparation? Is Demitris’s dancing really so bad that it puts him at the bottom of the scoreboard? The answer to these and many other questions are not really explored. Tsangari’s direction underscores the detachment that these men have from one another. When a blood pact is called for to bind the men together only desperate Demitris is willing to participate.

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One-upmanship is the order of the day. All of the group are shown to be pathetic in some way or another, but, this central gag loses a lot of its effectiveness as the film drags on. After a time we care as little for the result of the contest as the men do about one another, a neat trick on the part of the filmmakers but I wager that it was not intentional.

The film makes a point of keeping the winner of the ring a mystery, as ultimately it doesn’t matter to the outcome of the story. What does matter is that the men are too proud to bury the hatchet, resentment lingers in the air and from the audience too, Chevalier is serviceable but fails to deliver on its promising premise and when the credits do come we’re happy to be back on dry land and free of these bird-brained, man-babies.

Chevalier is in selected cinemas now.