Squabbling, squawking, squeaking and screaming, Greek flick Chevalier is a bitch fest like no other and just what you would expect from a film starring six middle-aged men. On a yacht.
Bursting the middle-aged man ego is hardly new. Read Homer. The yellow one. But doing something so contrived and consistent is innovative, not just simplistic. It is exactly what we would want from the twenty first century Greek satire scene.
The trend dates back to Aristophanes through to his most recent incarnation Yorgos Lanthimos of Lobster directorial fame. The Greeks are churning out some of the freshest, wittiest and often absurd comedy to slice through some of the biggest stereotypes of the day.
None bigger than the macho masochism that still props up the patriarchy. Meandering around the Aegean, all looks lost for a softly flatulent floater of a film. As stills seep in and out of focus in the lee of a craggy shore. Chevalier looks like an exercise in narcissistic cinematography rather than vital societal critique.
The first frames are fascinating. The Greek coastline has been broadcast across the waves to every corner of Europe. It has become a backdrop of agony as we have seen youngsters pulled from the foam. Dinghies of death. Front page splashes, but nothing quite like this.
Director Athina Rachel Tsangari reverses any expectations. We slowly focus upon a set of wetsuit clad males striking squid against the rocks. The pounding flesh reverberates over the soundtrack. It is at once both timelessly classic and the essence of Chevalier’s novelty.
Though the chore seems archaic and neanderthal, the chaps are modern men. We return to their luxury yacht. As the skintight wetsuits are slowly extricated from soaking cellulite encrusted bodies, the camera pans across this glorious exhibition of flesh.
These are men being manly men. The man’s man. Together for a homoerotic extreme fishing trip under the stars. With jet skis and windsurfing and wetsuits. Lots of skimpy tight ones, corseting pudgy midriffs. Spongy spare tyres. These are fifty-year-old physiques after all. And they are ready for deflation.
Director Athina Rachel Tsangari does exactly that. Together with screenwriting partner The Lobster’s Efthymis Filippou, they dissect every inch of the male anatomy to its testicles. Eventually emasculating them. One by one.
Back on the boat the boys decide to stage a contest. “Who is the best? At everything…” But there is no Apollo at Delphi to consult. What evolves is ninety minutes of raw power politics as each of the alpha males attempt to be the best. From sleeping positions to morning erections, penis size to burping, all fields are covered in this complex race to the bottom.
It might sound a little farfetched, but the finale is a spectacular piece of arse-witchery. Bumbling Dmitris (Makis Papadimitriou) – the innocent bearded one with the cherubim grin – trades blood with his boat brother, Yorgos. What brought us to this level of intravenous fraternity develops over the course of the film’s episodic, yet beautifully conceived snapshots of competitive idiocy.
The outstanding scene is the phone call home. The lads crowd around the table. Phones out. The calls commence. Unanswered tones echo down the cabin until. Cut. The end of the line picks up and they talk to wives or mothers. Meanwhile, the others silently jot down and frantically rate the responses of their other halves. There is something so simple and comedic about taking ‘laddism’ to its limit and making every part of a man’s life a competition.
Many consider male bonding to be a boarding school, university and yuppie phenomenon that plagues the early years of society. Take the recent Linklater film Everybody Wants Some as an example that so successfully took an affectionate swipe at a bunch of college baseball players. But the inadequacies and insecurities that affect the youth only exacerbate over a lifetime.
The stories of Christos, Dmitris, Yorgos and co are both tragic and a self-fulfilling prophecy of their earliest insecurities. Only now they are inflated and overblown to extraordinary levels. Athletic, attractive Christos breaks down in front of the mirror and is just left screaming on repeat, “I am the best!” intermingled with the classic one liner, “My thighs are not fat.”
This is where early adult attitudes morph into middle aged crises. A man becomes an ego. A reputation. Then there comes the heightened sense of self and the gross self-hating when age and disappointment take hold.
Though Chevalier is funny, it provokes a serious question that leads you to reflect on the reasons why over 70% of suicides are male. The only way we can start to halt such a trend is to erode the pack mentality and overt competition that drives men to such lengths of competition and disappointment.
A man does not have to be the best. It is only by demonstrating six men in the vain attempt to do so that we can begin to learn that the path to happiness does not lie in winning at ‘being a man’, but in being oneself.