Six Players, Six Losers, and One Chevalier
“I’ve got a beautiful erection, enduring and engaged. Open up and let me show you.”
For a brief time when I was younger I held the record for “longest pee.” It was a local record among friends and family only so you probably wouldn’t have heard about it, and it was for duration as opposed to distance, but dammit it was my title. I’m less interested in being the “best” these days, but for some people that urge to win never quite goes away.
Chevalier follows six friends/acquaintances on a privately-chartered yacht for a few days of fishing and fun in the sun around Greece. The film opens as the trip is coming to an close and they set a return course for Athens. Dinner over, their time-killing guessing game ending in anger – “There’s no way in hell, if I’m a fruit, I’m a pineapple.” – a new game is suggested. Each man will suggest a challenge, all of them will compete, and someone will be crowned winner. Still not quite competitive enough, it’s quickly modified into a game of The Best in General.
They’ll judge each other on everything they do – how they sleep, what they wear, how they prepare foods, how quickly they respond to cries for help – and keep score in individual notebooks. He with the most points wins. It’s a dick-measuring contest – at one point almost literally – guaranteed to topple friendships, dissolve partnerships, and leave all six of them in need of a vacation.
Director/co-writer Athina Rachel Tsangari’s third feature film (after 2010’s oddly appealing Attenberg) is a humorous and insightful look at adult masculinity and the games men play with each other and with themselves. The comedy is dry and subtle early on as the characters are initially setup, but some big laughs come our way once the game begins in earnest.
The men are a mix of ages and personalities, and all but one of them seem to have found financial success in their lives. Demitiris (Efthymis Papadimitriou, Suntan) is the outlier who lives at home with his mom. The others, including his brother Yannis (Giorgos Pyrpassopoulos), are far more accomplished, but their strength and self-confidence ultimately works against them as doubt, insecurity, and fear of losing join them on the boat.
Christos (Sakis Rouvos) is young, in shape, and in control until a cholesterol comparison sends him into exercise overdrive, Josef (Vangelis Mourikis) spirals into despair when his penis fails to measure up, and the doctor (Yiorgos Kendros) – the group’s host and in some ways patriarch – is forced to acknowledge he’s not the man he once was. Lastly, Yorgo (Panos Koronis) seems to be the most together guy of the bunch, but even he begins second-guessing himself in the face of judgement via notepad scribblings by his so-called friends.
Tsangari and co-writer Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster) skewer the male need to compete and win, to be “the best” at something, with sharp observations and characters’ infantile behaviors, and in the process they deliver big laughs and moments of bittersweet humanity. The film works perfectly well as a comedy strictly about these particular men and about men in general, but sly commentary on the classes and on Greece’s recent and ongoing financial strife seems evident as well. The boat’s captain and service staff wait on the men but rank their customers off the clock – one even offers tips to his favorite player during a cleaning contest – but it’s not long before the competitive spirit seeps below decks and they start taking notes on each other.
Chevalier is ultimately the most broadly appealing film to come out of Greece in some time, but it’s every bit as deserving of the attention afforded to its crazier cousins including the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth and Alps (both of which Tsangari produced). At its core its a simple film about men and their relationships to each other – friends, but always potential competitors – and that truth leads to realizations that these six are in no way prepared for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a title to go reclaim.