Chevalier Promotes The Notion That Competition Kills the Soul

Because Greek directors seem to be having a real moment right now (see: The Lobster–and, like, also literally see it), it comes as no surprise that Athens-born Athina Rachel Tsangari’s third feature, Chevalier, is a revelation of insight into human nature.

Centered around the simultaneously simple and complex concept of determining who out of six men is “the best in general” as they travel to Athens on a yacht in the Aegean Sea, Tsangari keeps the approach minimal, allowing her cast of characters, the Doctor (Yorgos Kendros), Dimitris (Makis Papadimitriou), Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos), Yorgos (Panos Koronis), Josef (Vangelis Mourikis) and Christos (Sakis Rouvas), to set the inevitable course of absurdist competition based on even the most minuscule of capabilities, including, but not limited to, getting an erection.

Though at first the sextet seems indecipherable from one another, the proposal of the chevalier contest (sometimes referred to as such because of the prize being a chevalier ring), each man works in earnest to make himself stand apart as the plot progresses–even the toadier Dimitris, who is only there because of his brother, Yannis, as the latter often likes to reiterate, tries to distinguish himself by lip-syncing a “stirring” rendition of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You.” Though, of course, none of the men want to admit they kind of like it, deeming the performance utterly “irrelevant.”

Because everything about Chevalier is dripping with understatement and subtext, the socioeconomic implications of the fact that the two underlings actually seeing to the “servant” aspects of manning the yacht are merely observing with bemused, spectator-like commentary, is rife with satire–particularly when they themselves start debating in their own skewed way about who is “the best in general” between the two of them.

The spotlight on how easily insecurities can come to the forefront when competition is at play is another subtle nod not just to what happens when capitalistic tendencies infiltrate the scene, but also to the current state of Greek culture itself–a far cry from anything other than a communistic-esque free-for-all that prides itself very much on not bothering with the pain and arduousness of collective competition. And so for Tsangari to make this bold statement (particularly for a Greek woman) about how enforced rivalry only serves to kill the soul rather than promote any true sense of pure innovation is a considerable factor in taking into account what jumps out about Chevalier.

Indeed, the fact that Tsangari herself refuses to insert any of her own blatant personal emotions or opinions into the narrative is a testament to how strongly she feels about the importance of objectivity–projecting a non-competitive, non-overbearing slant that allows people and events to speak for themselves. The abrupt, almost slow burn of the conclusion serves only to iterate the fact that the subjectivity of what is “best” in this life renders the possibility to determine anything truly “concrete” impossible. And then, of course, there is the fact that Tsangari is tongue-in-cheekly, assessing the femininity of so-called masculinity–for when an excess of testosterone is concentrated in any setting, the inclination to prove who has the biggest literal and metaphorical erection becomes inevitable. Hence, in her own discreet way, Tsangari does, indeed end up inserting her own viewpoint into the mix: men make women seem like beacons of staidness and poise. You won’t see them putting together shelves as part of a contest to determine which of them is “the best.” So perhaps, in this respect, Tsangari’s message is twofold: don’t let the trap of manhood or capitalist-driven brainwashing affect any prolonged period of time in a confined space with those in the same profession as you. Unless, naturally, you’re far too bored with life to prevent it.