The Greek Weird Wave—as it’s frequently, yet unofficially referred to—has distinguished itself over the years as a cinematic movement heavily tied to a certain ability to reconcile a sense of friction and incongruity. In synthesising elements stemming from typically conflicting genres to articulating sociopolitical criticisms through a constant appeal to subtlety, Athina Rachel Tsangari has produced and directed works that are able to apply this approach in their ability to accommodate a breadth in their audience: gaining traction in arthouse and festival circuits whilst remaining accessible to a broader audience; specifically within Greece itself. This breadth of appeal is clear cornerstone in the director’s latest effort, Chevalier, as a work that shares the astute and discerning approach to film that has defined Tsangari’s career, whilst playing off a greater accessibility and engagement than any of her previous works.
Where 2000’s The Slow Business of Going and 2010’s Attenberg had women in the lead roles—with narratives of self-discovery built around surreal premises, emerging with a certain acuity and clear-cut social critiques—Chevalier has a cast consisting exclusively of men, although the presence of Tsangari as both director and co-writer is starkly evident from the opening scene. Working with a talented ensemble, Tsangari paints a detailed caricature of Greek masculinity; beginning with an absurd competition set on a yacht, in which men compete to see who among them is “the best in general”, Tsangari and co-writer Efthymis Filippou (Dogtooth, The Lobster) slowly blur their defining characteristics together until we’re left with a display of primal desire.
From the process of casting to the writing of the characters, Tsangari establishes the essential elements of pathos and reflexivity that constitute the strength of her film. In Yorgos (Panos Koronis), there’s a sense of determination and promise met with a well-hidden insecurity. Josef, played by Attenberg’s Vangelis Mourikis, is more neurotic and distressed, growing apathetic as he becomes more aware of his thinning chance of victory. The Doctor (Yiorgos Kendros), the eldest of the group, is initially presented with an aura of mystery around him, before Tsangari unveils the cracks in his image late in the film. Christos, who works with The Doctor, mediates between narcissism and self-doubt. Sakis Rouvas, a well-known everyman figure in Greece, turns out to be a perfect fit for the role. The singer, actor, model, businessman, and athlete—who performed at the closing ceremony for the 2004 Olympics—plays the early front-runner in the film, before losing momentum as he becomes consumed by the pressure of his position. With the aloof, detached, and lovably futile competitor Dimitris—played by Makis Papadimitriou—Tsangari finds an unlikely muse. Victory for Dimitris is quickly established as a Sisyphean ambition, and the subsequent contrasts he draws against his shipmates offers the most insightful sociopolitical commentary, the breadth of the film’s humour, and is likely to derive the most empathy from the audience.
Whilst the film manages it impressively, writing about Chevalier as a work that deconstructs masculinity is quietly reductive. Chevalier is a kaleidoscopic look into masculinity, but the way Tsangari structures the film reflects on how masculinity in Greece informs and shapes behaviours, relationships, and approaches to logic under the spectre of competition.1
In a recent piece on The Lobster, New Yorker critic Richard Brody lamented the apolitical nature of the Greek Weird Wave, whilst also deriding Chevalier for employing the caricatures the premise of the film is based upon; the implication being that for a film to be political, its political ideas must be clear and overt. It’s a oft-heard expectation placed on Greek Weird Wave, as a movement that has more explicitly defined itself throughout the ongoing crisis of the last decade in Greece. That said, the focus on political expectation brushes over the significance of the fundamental action of making art in a time of crisis; something that Chevalier mediates brilliantly throughout.
In a frequently referenced scene where Dimitris lip-syncs to Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You”, Chevalier finds its inarguable climax; as a moment that both defines the film and the broader cinematic context it emerged from. Brody lauds the scene’s “eccentric spontaneity”, but gives little credit or time to the broader image it paints. The way Tsangari approaches this scene—set at night, the use of fireworks for lighting, the euphoric soundtrack, and the stillness of the crew as they watch the performance—paints the most palpable and lasting image in the film. With aforementioned hopelessness of Dimitris endeavour within the competition clearer than ever, there’s an overwhelming beauty in his performance — one that draws clear parallels to Greece itself. Dimitris bypasses the nature of the competition—a race with only one winner—giving the film something far more valuable.
Chevalier, then, is a film that defines itself as an inherently political work, an insightful, thought-provoking, and accessible one, at that. With this meta-commentary on the endurance of art against odds, in making a film about finding inspiration in boredom and spare time in an age of crisis and unemployment, and in analysing masculinity by highlighting its absurdities, Chevalier continues Tsangari’s trend of pushing forward the idea of Greek Weird Wave without ever sacrificing the foundational sense of originality that her success has been built upon.
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