A look at male vanity
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: