Monday, May 23, 2016

The games men play -- with each other -- as Athina Rachel Tsangari skewers the male prerogative, Greek-style, in CHEVALIER

There is no overt mention made of Greece's ongoing and horrendous economic situation in the film, CHEVALIER, but this low-key but often quite hilarious new satire of the macho stance among Greek males does make one wonder. Was it this kind of attitude -- hubristic, resentful, lying, scheming and, unfortunately, pretty stupid, too, among the Greek government, financial players and powers-that-were -- that brought the country to its collective knees? Of course one can't draw a straight line that connects this movie to that reality, but -- boy -- as one views this enticing rondelay of really bad male behavior, one certainly cannot help but wonder.....

The product of producer, writer, director and actress, Athina Rachel Tsangari, whom you saw (but may not have realized it) in Richard Linklater's wonderful Before Midnight, Chevalier describes, among other things, a signet ring and a game devised to "test the mettle" of males to determine who is the "best at everything." What it does not describe is the actual definition of chevalier: a chivalrous man or a member of certain orders of honor or merit. Ms Tsangari, who co-wrote (with Efthymus Filippou) and directed the movie, uses her title ironically.

She allows us to meet and get acquainted with her half-dozen men who, under the "leadership" of a well-known and successful doctor, are spending a weekend deep-sea-diving off a glamorous yacht. (We also get to know a few of the crew members, who act as a kind of Greek chorus to the shenanigans taking place around them.)

The five-man fellowship the doctor has invited to join him include his son-in-law, the son-in-law's rather borderline brother (both are shown above), the doctor's hale-and-hearty assitant at work (below) and two other friends who appear to have enjoyed watching each other have sex and possibly have enjoyed each other sexually, too.

If at first it may seem difficult to tell certain characters apart (with the exception of the portly and clearly out-of-his-league brother), not to worry. Ms Tsangari and her well-chosen and talented cast soon bring these guys to life so well that there is no problem of differentiation. Character builds (or, as the case may be, disintegrates) carefully and rather quickly.

Once someone suggests the game in which each man vies for distinction in myriad ways -- they'll have to clean, they'll have to build, and yes, eventually they'll have to compare penis size (erect, yet) -- the film builds to its funniest scene involving the man who can't get it up, and when he finally and suddenly does, can't find anyone to corroborate his massive splendor (hey, it is pretty impressive).

Turns out, as we might suspect -- but the filmmaker keeps all this at bay quite nicely -- there is more going on here than initially meets the eye. What this is simply adds to the sense of nastiness and betrayal that hovers over the film.  And yet, by its troubling and thoughtful finale, surprise does await. How and why are as original/believable as all that has gone before.

Intelligent and well-paced, Chevalier is less bizarre but more pertinent than Tsangari's earlier film, Attenberg. It's a fine step onward and upward. And it's a lot of fun, too. Skewering us guys so often is.

From Strand Releasing, the movie opens this Friday in New York City at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center; in Los Angeles it will open on Friday, June 3 at the Landmark NuArt and then on June 10 at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Here in South Florida it also opens June 10 at the Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables, the Miami Beach Cinematheque in Miami and the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. Elsewhere? Absolutely. Click here then scroll down and click on Screenings to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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