A look at male van­ity

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Justin Chang

The open­ing mo­ments of “Che­va­lier,” Athina Rachel Tsan­gari’s poker-faced com­edy of male mis­be­hav­ior, un­fold with near-word­less econ­omy. After an af­ter­noon of div­ing and fish­ing, five men emerge from the Aegean Sea, look­ing al­most in­ter­change­able in their dark wet­suits. With a sixth man who has been watch­ing from the shore, they make their way to a nearby yacht, where they climb aboard and help one an­other peel off their gear — an un­forced metaphor for the spec­ta­cle of bared flesh and un­der­the-skin in­ti­ma­cies to come.

The film takes its ti­tle from a signet ring that be­comes a cov­eted em­blem of su­pe­ri­or­ity — the grand prize in an im­promptu six­man tour­na­ment called “The Best in Gen­eral.”

Cooked up dur­ing a night of too much wine and testos­terone, this game will pit th­ese well-to-do men against one an­other in a se­ries of ridicu­lous yet re­veal­ing con­tests: Who can pol­ish sil­ver the fastest? Who has the best sleep­ing pos­ture? The low­est choles­terol lev­els? The most gen­er­ous en­dow­ment? Yes, “Che­va­lier” goes there. In this many-sided study of mas­cu­line van­ity and in­se­cu­rity, it’s scarcely the most egre­gious ex­am­ple of hit­ting below the belt.

Set al­most en­tirely aboard the yacht over a fate­ful few days and nights, the film is a dock­side cham­ber piece — an ac­com­plished feat of film­mak­ing in close quar­ters. It couldn’t have been easy for cine­matog­ra­pher Chris­tos Kara­ma­nis to ne­go­ti­ate the cam­era below deck, and he makes the most of the set­ting and its tight, shad­owy con­fines. Early on, the ex­treme widescreen im­ages — full of strate­gi­cally In “Che­va­lier,” Panos Koro­nis com­petes for the grand prize in an im­promptu six-man tour­na­ment called “The Best in Gen­eral.” MPAA rat­ing: Un­rated Run­ning time: 1:45 Opens: Fri­day lopped-off heads and care­fully po­si­tioned mir­rors — serve at once to clar­ify and con­found our un­der­stand­ing of who’s who.

Yet even as Tsan­gari plays deftly with dis­ori­en­ta­tion and claus­tro­pho­bia, she pries open a win­dow onto some­thing rich, strange and un­de­ni­ably authen­tic about male egos in con­flict.

The film takes its time bring­ing the char­ac­ters into focus: We learn what their names are and how some of t hem are con­nected, though not ex­actly howand why they came to spend a hol­i­day to­gether. The old­est among them is a well­man­nered doc­tor (Yor­gos Ken­dros) in his 60s. The youngest is Dim­itris (Makis Pa­padim­itriou), a pudgy mis­fit tag­ging along on the ex­pe­di­tion with his tetchy older brother, Yan­nis (Yor­gos Pir­pas­sopou­los).

Round­ing out the group are the hand­some, con­fi­dent Yor­gos (Panos Koro­nis), the odds-on fa­vorite to win; his some­what eas­ily riled busi­ness part­ner, Josef (Van­ge­lis Mourikis); and Chris­tos (Sakis Rou­vas), a hand­some brooder who’s nurs­ing a ri­valry with some­one else on board. Next to th­ese su­pe­rior spec­i­mens, Dim­itris seems des­tined to fin­ish dead last.

He is and he isn’t. Avail­ing her­self of some spare yet ef­fec­tive sound­track choices (Minnie Riper­ton’s “Lovin’ You” is a par­tic­u­lar stand­out), Tsan­gari sees the hero­ism be­neath Dim­itris’ hap­less ex­te­rior as clearly as she per­ceives the cracks in the oth­ers’ fa­cades.

Since it pre­miered at the Lo­carno Film Fes­ti­val last Au­gust, “Che­va­lier” has been sub­jected to the usual bat­tery of guesses and in­ter­pre­ta­tions as to what it’s all about. Is Tsan­gari of­fer­ing up an oblique com­men­tary on her coun­try’s fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal woes? What does her per­spec­tive, as the lone fe­male voice in this all-male con­fig­u­ra­tion, sig­nify?

In in­ter­views and pub­lic ap­pear­ances, the di­rec­tor has de­clined to spec­ify. For all the mys­ter­ies it chooses to leave off screen and on dry land, “Che­va­lier” speaks for it­self:

COUR­TESY/STRAND RE­LEAS­ING

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