Chevalier ★★★★

**TIFF 2015**

Greece ruled my festival this year! First Lobster and now this, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier, which I waited for for about an hour in pouring rain with other film snobs and was completely worth it. Tsangari, a frequent producer of Yorgos Lanthimos’ work and fellow pioneer of what’s come to be known as the “Greek Weird Wave” (i love that name), crafted this bizarre little comedy that was a roaring hit with the crowd here; I would love for that to result in some Wild Tales-esque success with USA arthouse markets. I think the film could do it. Chevalier is about a group of men on vacation on a luxurious yacht that, after running out of card games and other ways to spend their time, decide to a play a mammoth game they dub “Chevalier” to decide which one of them is the best. At everything. Everything becomes a field of judgement with points assigned: exercising, cooking, fishing, taste in music, taste in clothing, phone calls with girlfriends, penis length, and on to more bizarre ones like sleeping style. There are multiple scenes of one of the men sleeping, surrounded by the others as they jot down notes and discuss the merits of their subject’s sleeping position, breathing pattern, etc. Tsangari uses this outline to investigate male identity and ego, all with exquisite framing and cinematography. The gendered dimension is rewarding, but Tsangari’s film also becomes a substantial analysis of power systems in general: the nature of the game is so amorphous and strange, often it’s whoever can decide something can be assigned points first that holds all the cards; the absurd logic of power vacuums. And because her subjects are all straight wealthy men it has an added resonance, a site for the petty, selfish, ridiculous origins of power.

Besides making a great film, Athina Rachel Tsangari has been the best presence in a post-film Q+A I’ve seen yet. She was wearing sort of a cape and bowler hat, a very theatrical and exciting ensemble, and actually had numerous insights to share about her film (as you can see this isn’t always the case: Endorphine‘s Turpin was often humble to the point of silence, February‘s Perkins very defensive about his work and a little pretentious). Tsangari revealed some of the “games” were made up by her actors themselves, a brilliant idea for working with the mens’ own insecurities. An audience member asked about the degree of male nudity in the film to which Tsangari rolled her eyes and said “I don’t criminalize the body in my films,” amazing. She described the root of Chevalier as three abstract, arty images of destruction that I barely remember, but she sold it with such authority and that strange presence of “a true artist is talking”, it was captivating. Grade: A/A-