TIFF 2015 Review | Superb Satire in ‘Chevalier’
A five-way contest for the title of “The Best in General” takes over a yacht vacation in the deadpan comedy Chevalier. Six men are technically in the running, but needle-phobic Dimitris (Makis Papadimitriou) knows he’s got no chance in this pack of status-obsessed, note-taking doctors. Among the criteria taken into consideration are sleep posture, number of dental fillings, speed of IKEA assembly, choice of ringtone, and resemblance to a panda. (Excessive ursinity is apparently a liability.) The sextet eventually get around to dick-measuring, of course (OF COURSE), but much later than you’d think.
This isn’t a neurotic or chatty lot, so there are no explanations as to what type of underwear or espresso preparation really is best. Instead, director and co-writer Athina Rachel Tsangari, a mainstay of the nascent Greek New Wave, simply lets the absurdity of male hyper-competitiveness reveal itself. The resulting satire isn’t as uproarious or as succinctly structured as one might wish, but it builds into a surprisingly affecting tale of bonding through ranking. For this group, camaraderie is nice, but knowing once and for all who are your betters and who are your inferiors is infinitely more satisfying.
Ranging in age from their thirties to their sixties, the men are The Doctor (Yorgos Kendros) and his five guests, who make up the patrician physician’s partner, colleagues, and family. Docked close enough to Athens that the contenders remain civilized, but far enough that nothing but the game exists, the men are somewhat difficult to distinguish from one another — which is part of the point. The vacationers’ madness spreads to the ship’s two-men crew, who wage their own side bet over which one of the pair is the superior.
The idle pace gradually picks up as the moment of truth draws near — and the interpersonal long-simmering rivalries get nasty. Dimitris’ older brother Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) loses patience for his sad-sack sibling, while the older, possibly impotent Josef (Vangelis Mourikis) tells anyone who’ll listen that he’s still capable of producing “beautiful erections.” Vying for the affections of the aloof Doctor are Yorgos (Panos Koronis) and Christos (Sakis Rouvas), younger men who foolishly attempt to leverage their wives for more points. Poor Dimtris, meanwhile, can’t seem to get on the board, even when he delivers a knockout lip-sync performance of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You,” which just might be the film’s comic highlight.
Fists eventually punctuate the hilariously oppressive vanity and vigilance pervading the yacht, but true catharsis — at least for the audience — arrives when one of the men is able to puncture through the walls of narcissism and truly prove himself worthy of being called “chevalier,” or a man of honor and chivalry. That he’s got nothing to do with the eventual winner is to be expected, since being the best at this game automatically makes you a top contender for being the worst. Still, you can’t turn away from these cocks against humanity.