Film review: Chevalier turns quiet judgment into a game of wits

The cinematically inventive Greek comedy Chevalier plays with the outrageous side of male insecurity. Photo: Strand Releasing The cinematically inventive Greek comedy Chevalier plays with the outrageous side of male insecurity. Photo: Strand Releasing

Greek comedy Chevalier, from Athina Rachel Tsangari, has the potential to be the quietest artistic revolution in recent cinematic history. Dry as a bone yet laugh-out-loud hilarious, steady in pace yet always keeping the threat of a bloody, outrageous conclusion within reach, Tsangari masterfully elevates a story that would feel right at home in a Todd Phillips’ no-homo bro flick into an incisive, unrelenting commentary on class, performative masculinity and modern insecurity.

Chevalier follows six men on holiday on a luxury yacht who play a game for the duration of their cruise called Chevalier. The purpose of the game is to figure out who is the so-called “best in general,” in which the men score one another on every conceivable facet of one another’s talents, behavior, physique, intelligence—and even qualities as arbitrary as sleep posture. The winner gets to wear a Chevalier ring until the next competition. Almost immediately, the men begin scrutinizing themselves as heavily as they do one another; aggressive displays of attributes that are not particularly impressive become constant, while conversations that should have been casual or even private—ranging from salad recipes to how quickly one typically achieves an erection—become the norm.

Different men have different views of the game’s meaning. Some see no problem with themselves and are not outwardly competitive in the least, yet waste no time using the game’s preposterous rules to justify their self-image. Others are naturally competitive and engaged in a similar method of itemizing themselves and others before the game was introduced. While giving lip service to the notion that some things in life are a matter of preference, they have been quietly judging both the people around them as well as themselves, seeing life as a stage on which to flaunt their ego for others without consciously being aware of this fact. They do this so often that it begins to feel normal, but as the game reveals their charade, the men behave about as naturally as an actor who has no idea how to move his arms on stage.

Both groups of men accept the game’s premise because they suffer from the same insecurity. They are not necessarily afraid of being judged; they live their lives expecting, even hoping to be judged. Their insecurity is built around being judged by others differently than the way they judge themselves. It’s telling that the yacht’s staff also keeps a running score; the head chef, a boastful and angry man, favors their employer, the doctor, while his underling consistently places him near the bottom of the list.

Tonally and visually, Tsangari remains an objective viewer. The steadiness of the cinematography conveys the seriousness with which the men view the game, while her emotional distance from it allows the absurdity to speak for itself. Nothing is stylistically forced, and no sympathy is artificially injected into the audience through cinematic trickery. A lesser director would have added phony catharsis, crying or perhaps even a violent death; Tsangari openly mocks those conventions in ways that we will not spoil here but are some of Chevalier’s best moments in what is already a stunning display of restraint that delivers its insights on human behavior far more effectively than bombast ever could.

Chevalier NR, 105 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema

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