While male competiveness and egotism regularly feature as the backdrop of a central narrative, it is rare to see it garnered as a film’s central conceit. Chevalier, directed and written by Athina Rachel Tsangari (an associate of Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos), takes this concept, and exploits it in an increasingly dark, comedic manner.
Six men, on board a private yacht, find their conversations and hitherto practised activities increasingly nullifying. When deciding upon which game to play next a discussion, in which Trivial Pursuit is proposed and instantly dismissed, leads to the positing of a game called Chevalier. So-called as the winner, as voted by the other participants, wins a Chevalier signet ring. The game in its original conception, consists of each participant creating a contest of their own choosing or imagination, and then each player scoring one another.
Instantly the game is upgraded. While it will still consist of the created contests, it is decided that each man’s everyday interactions and movements will simultaneously be scored. Thus, their conversation will be deemed too loud or too quiet, their sleeping posture will be critiqued and judged, and as the contest becomes increasingly male-driven, the very physical incarnation of their sex will be measured and compared in a clinical and detached manner.
As can be expected on board the yacht, the men interact with little else but one another, excluding some brief phone calls to loved ones back home. As such, the game takes on an increasingly heightened role, with each man determined to be ‘the best one in general’.
The film’s lack of women onscreen intelligently serves to highlight their absence, and in turn emphasise the absurdity of the men’s pursuit of masculinity. Many of the activities the contest involves are typically feminine – cleaning windows, polishing silver – yet, when placed in the context of a male-ego driven game, their feminine associations are forgotten. Instead, as the men throw themselves bodily across the windows of the boat, unintentionally aping the stereotypically sexualised car wash, they think only of their desire to be recognised as the best, regardless of the metric.
Tsangari’s script is sparse, with visual imagery often taking precedent over dialogue. Thus the film’s opening scene, in which the men return from a dive, features no dialogue initially, allowing the audience to witness the men’s physical interactions without distraction.
The intention, or the reasoning behind the trip is never explicitly stated, and there is a clear sense that this time of the yacht is somehow separate, and isolated from external life, yet the experience will remain. This sense of the absurd is further highlighted through the regular punctuations of the captain’s inane on board announcements, in which the men are told, amongst other vital pieces of information, that tonight’s dessert has been replaced by another option and will not be as advertised.
With a muted colour palette, and a naturalistic approach to direction despite, or perhaps because of, the increasingly heighted scenarios that the men introduce, Chevalier is an engaging and absorbing drama. One which, despite its initial simplicity, deals with far greater complexity than is first apparent.