SXSW Film Review – Chevalier
It’s kind of ironic that I’m about to give my very subjective opinion about a film, considering the characters in this particular film decide to ignore the fact that any sort of opinion is based solely in subjective when they decide it’s a good idea to determine which of them is The Best in General. Chevalier, co-written by Efthymis Filippou and Athina Rachel Tsangari and directed by Tsangari, is basically a testosterone-fueled beauty pageant set on a yacht, and that’s pretty much it.
At the end of a diving trip, six men create a game to pass the time. The game is called The Best in General, and essentially, it composes of the men rating each other in all aspects of life – physical appearance, dental hygiene, home life, how well they clean a piece of silver, the position in which they sleep, their manhood etc. The idea for the game comes after a discussion of subjectivity when the men go around the dinner table and ask each other what type of food each one of them would be. Dimitrius, the outsider of the group, argues that the way he sees one of them may be different than the way someone else sees the same person. Because that’s how subjectivity works. So why does this movie decide to ignore that in favor of objectivity?
That’s the main problem I had with this film. The Internet Movie Database categorizes this film as a comedy. For sure, the premise of the film is comical, but the execution isn’t quite right. The film takes itself way too seriously for trying to say something that the audience is already aware of — that it’s entirely impossible to reach perfection, and to try to quantify it by wheedling it down to arbitrary aspects of humanity is futile.
The muted colors and the slow pace don’t quite mix with the intention to be comical either. Some shots linger a beat too long. While there are some funny lines, the result makes the film seem more like a drama without the drama. Or rather, the drama remains surface-level throughout the film, and the men’s obsession with one-upping each other never reaches something with more depth. The conversations and dialogue don’t lend itself to too much either. Every conversation held feels like there’s something more to it, but we never get there.
Despite the fact that the film says everything it wants to say right off the bat, the actors do a fair job in carrying the weight for the rest of the run time. They turn what would be one-note characters into sympathetic ones. Even though their actions are surface-level, through each of their performances, they are at least easy to understand. It is also quite harrowing to see the men spiral into paranoia for the duration of their trip, as friends turn against friends and family turns against family.
Of course, I didn’t know the term “Greek Weird Wave” until I saw this movie, and based on some research I’ve done in a day, Chevalier seems to be another installment in the Greek weird wave of films. Especially since the director, Tsangari, was responsible for 2010’s Attenberg, which was very popular during the festival circuit that year. But I haven’t seen any other of the Greek weird wave films, so this is new territory for me. Whether Chevalier fits right in with what I’m gathering is supposed to be the odd, quirky cinema of Greece, I couldn’t tell you simply because I’m not familiar with it.
Hello again, subjectivity. Listen — this movie wasn’t for me. And ultimately, I’m not the final say. (but could you imagine that kind of power??) Who’s to say what I don’t find funny or good works for someone else. Dimitrius was the only one who had a clue, and he told his friends and the audience the lesson in subjectivity within the first 20 minutes of the film. After that, nothing else really matters.