Robert Makin from the Ritzy, Brixton gives us a preview of Chevalier, this week’s Discover Tuesdays With MUBI presentation.
This accomplished satirical comedy drama from Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg) follows six professional middle-aged males as they turn an initially idyllic fishing trip on a luxury yacht in the Aegean Sea into a contest for supremacy.
Each player is assigned a number of tasks and errands, and then awarded points based on his skills and responses. From polishing silver and cleaning windows, to taking blood oaths and constructing Ikea furniture, everything will be judged. But only one man will reign supreme and wear the ring of Chevalier.
Tsangari knows that if you want to truly understand the bizarre nature of any creature, it is best to observe them in their natural habitat. The creatures in question here are grown men, and their natural habitat is a testosterone-heavy cinematic plateau of dry, jagged landscapes, speedboats and rich food.
During the opening scenes Tsangari shows her posturing characters emerging from the depths of the ocean like mythical beasts – hunters of the deep, clad in wets suits and beating freshly caught octopuses against the coastal rocks. But over the course of the film the facade of their masculine pride slowly crumbles as insecurities rise to the surface.
These men are bonded not only by their relentless obsession with winning, but also by their sheer pettiness, whether it’s scrutinising an individual’s sleeping posture or aggressively debating the shape of baby pandas.
With the exclusion of a musical score, and her expertly restrained, sparse framing, Tsangari creates an odd atmosphere of tangible isolation. The desolate Mediterranean scenery – seemingly devoid of any other human life – is a reflection of her bickering protagonist’s insular perspectives. It’s almost as if the world has ended, but they’re too preoccupied with trivialities and each other’s flaws to notice.
Despite the constant undercurrent of latent violence and the potential for confessional soap-opera dialogue, Tsangari skilfully avoids graphic sensationalism, opting instead for her own strand of sharply observed and plausible absurdity.
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