Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Stars: Vangelis Mourikis, Nikos Orphanos
3 (out of 5) Globes
The Greek New Wave, such that it’s a thing, is really just a handful of people, each making the same kind of movie. Their brand is absurdist allegories. In these darkly humorous whatzits, characters are mere pawns, deadpan machines stripped of their humanity inside stiff and often amusing shots. Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” find people whose lives are rigidly defined and controlled by cruel and loopy autocrats. The powers-that-be tell their prisoners that the outside world is dangerous (from the former) and that single people will be turned into animals (the latter).
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The weirdo societies in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg” and the new “Chevalier” are less severe. They may even look like, at times, like our own world, only slightly weirded up. Set in a dull factory town when Greece was newly bankrupted, “Attenberg” was a sympathetic look at young women navigating a funhouse mirror version of sex and hormones. In “Chevalier” she enters the world of men. Inevitably she’s less down with what she finds, though even more amused, because men can be pretty stupid, especially when there aren’t any women around.
Her setting is a yacht full of dudes, who are on the tail end of some vague fishing trip in the Aegean Sea that looks like it’s neither for business nor pleasure. Apart from two feuding brothers, it’s never clear how our sextet know each other, but if they’re buddies they display little to no signs of affection. In fact they’re so bored with each other’s company they decide to pass the time with a series of games. These range from the silly to the amusing mundane, and when completed they will deem who’s “The Best in General.” And so everyone starts judging postures, ringtones, calls home to the wife, even thighs. At one point they each race to see who can erect an Ikea bookshelf first. They’re all variations on the old dick-measuring contest, so it’s fitting that at one point they really do show off their erect weens.
Most of these new films from Greece tend to appear more simple than they are, though “Chevalier” is the most easily deciphered. It’s still complex. Tsangari is both amused by and mildly empathetic to her characters, who are aggressive and competitive and macho, but also weak and scared and easily peer-pressured. The need to win is deeply ingrained in them by biology and a crumbling society, and it’s only in little moments in between rounds that they pair off and blurt out secret confessions and neuroses. (The monotony of their hilarious matches are further broken up by PA announcements that recall the ones in Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H.”) All of Lanthimos and Tsangari’s movies are essentially comedies that take easily exploitable premises and wring them dry through endless, creative variations. But in each cases it’s the sadness and the deep perception of how individuals get subsumed into groups that make them more than a series of good, very, very funny jokes.
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