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Chevalier

[…] It is not unlike an opera, in which everything seems to be a paradigm of ideals, meanings, essences.

[…] In capturing this, Tsangari’s style of filming is cold, objective, almost cynical, yet it remains close to the characters, revealing their human faces.

[…] «Chevalier» is not only a study on the psychology of men, or on the fragility of games and competitions, but it is also a filmic reflection on the vanity of men.

“Chevalier” is a game played by six friends on a luxurious yacht returning from a holiday, to determine the best man among them, «the best in all» – as they say. The isolation on the boat, the “extra-territoriality” of being at sea, the confrontation of six characters – plus three men from the crew – all make the situation a model, study, or a case to be considered on a higher level, the level at which each character and each gesture has a paradigmatic force. It is not unlike an opera, in which everything seems to be a paradigm of ideals, meanings, essences. But Athina Rachel Tsangari balances this heavily charged situation with a realistic picture of her six particular characters and, moreover, by taking pleasure in the absurd and ridiculous. While they each try to show their best, they inevitably show their weaknesses as well. While they try to be hard on themselves and each other, they also water down their aggression with unexpected tenderness. In capturing this, Tsangari’s style of filming is cold, objective, almost cynical, yet it remains close to the characters, revealing their human faces. The photography is very dark, not searching for the beauty of the image, and, as a result, it allows the faces of our six players and the three men of the crew to emerge, which are finally the only real sources of light in the scene; this is also thanks to the amazing acting abilities of practically all of them.

Through it is an almost theatrical work, Tsangari delivers a piece of entertainment along with a deep analysis of the human being at the same time; at least, of the human male. Friendship and selfishness are two poles that create a space of high tension, where we constantly sense the imminence of violence and discover the fragility of our heroes. Victory itself can become a reason to blur the line between what is fair and unfair. Actually, the urgency of winning is only a possible form of the most basic necessity of gaining perspective in life. Behind this need is an existential horizon made up of doubts, loneliness, and insecurity. This horizon becomes visible when the game reveals its absence of clear rules; when the limits between game and reality are no longer clear, when the players discover that everything can change at any moment and that everything depends on the others. Chevalier is not only a study on the psychology of men, or on the fragility of games and competitions, but it is also a filmic reflection on the vanity of men.

The complexity of Tsangari’s Chevalier grows only on the psychological and existential layers. In a way, there is no element of surprise in this film, but just an internal development of the seminal idea declared at the beginning. Therefore, one cannot help but have some regret for Tsangari’s last film, the splendid Attenberg, whose complexity involves more than the psychological and existential layers. Together with these layers, the story of Marina is also able to make very interesting comments on an esthetic, geographic, national, and historical levels through its main reflection on sexuality and family. But I consider Attenberg to be one of the best movies of the last decade; one which is clearly difficult to equal.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: October 17, 2016

Chevalier | Film | Athina Rachel Tsangari | GR 2015 | 105’

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Screenings in November 2017 at Stadtkino Basel and Kino Xenix Zürich

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