REVIEW: Chevalier

24 05 2016

chevalier_Strand_PrintAmerican men have gotten their fair share of skewering this year, from the farcial (“Neighbors 2“) to the deadpan (“The Nice Guys“) and even the Deadpool. As men – especially white ones – feel increasingly alarmed and isolated by social forces bringing about gender equality, it’s probably a net positive to have cultural touchstones that gently hint about the ways in which retrograde masculinity is out of place in modern society.

But male anxieties over power and ranking are not a mere social construct. They are something more primal – biological, even. For this moment, there could hardly be a better anthropological document of men than the absurdist comedy “Chevalier.” That the characters happen to be Greek men feels rather incidental, like the politicians of “Dr. Strangelove” happen to be American. We recognize them less as people molded by a certain culture and more as primates swinging their dicks around.

The sailors in “Chevalier” are competitive even to begin, in everything from timed breath holding to seated row machines. But while seated around a table, they grow frustrated with their inability to quantify such qualitative measures as which animal a person resembles. From these circumstances, the game Chevalier is born. It’s perhaps natural when they are all stuffed together in a cramped space with no women, making all intimacy remote but copious rivalry imminent.

The men go from that table and devise a point system with no semblance of objectivity or standards by which they relentlessly evaluate each other. Be it setting a table, personal hygiene choices or – of course – proper penis function, every action and attribute can gain or lose someone points. Docking points does not really require a logical explanation; as someone puts it bluntly, “Not that it’s wrong, I just don’t like it.”

The men all decry the rules as erroneous and pointless when they work to their disadvantage. Yet, when push comes to shove, they can never bring themselves to break free from the game. The pretense of reigning over everyone else just proves too enticing, no matter what false pretext is necessary to achieve the stature.

Director and co-writer Athina Rachel Tsangari is up to the task of chronicling each successively ridiculous episode of their power jostling. As a female director, she brings a distinct critical eye toward examining the extreme public enacting of gender – and never abandons her quest for the murmurs of the shrimpy beating hearts inside each of them. B+3stars

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