Six Greek men have been on a fishing holiday, sailing around the islands and helping themselves to the bounty of the Mediterranean sea, away from their wives and partners for a break but finding passing the time when they are not fishing and swimming somewhat difficult to contemplate. They begin to consider little games, such as seeing who can hold their breath the longest, or a late night session of quizzing where they have to identify the other men from how they are described in comparison to everyday objects and animals, but this breeds ill-feeling between them when they cannot decide who is the winner. Eventually this preoccupation with who is the best out of all of them is dominating them completely...
Director Athina Rachel Tsangari teamed up with the co-writer of The Lobster and other Yorgos Lanthimos movies, Efthymis Filippou, to craft this bleakly humorous but distinctly unforgiving look at male competitiveness, where success is measured by the most petty, some would say pointless, terms. It was not just who was the best at sport like football, something you could objectively decide when one man emerged the winner out of a match, it was judging who was best out of things that in the great scheme of things mattered not one iota, which was where the potential laughs arose. Really these men were pathetic specimens whose macho intensity had blinded them to realising they were behaving ludicrously.
But was Chevalier all that funny? It had its moments when it grew genuinely ridiculous, which was often, yet Tsangari developed this in a restrained, oddly dramatic style, meaning you had to seek out the giggles when on the surface the film appeared to be taking these men as seriously as they took themselves. If you were able to take a step back and note this was not normal behaviour, you could well regard this as a knee-slapping comedy, but the fact remained it was not serving its observations with a tone that lent itself to roaring with mirth, and with a few tweaks - not that many, actually - it could have been arranged as a thriller which would have climaxed in the characters launching themselves at one another's throats.
That it did not draw to that conclusion was perhaps Tsangari deliberately avoiding cliché, but it came across as perverse in a feminine way as the characters were in a masculine way. There was a little violence and bloodshed come the very end, but nobody was chasing anybody else through the cabins with a speargun or anything like that, it remained as remote as to its purpose as the rest of the film had been. Once the holidaymakers have settled on their sense of purpose, essentially to work out once and for all who is the finest man among them by implementing a points system (made a record for each in a little notepad), the atmosphere turns mutedly toxic as the contest builds. We can tell their endeavours will prove nothing except some vague achievements, but there's no one there to point out otherwise.
The absence of women was a significant factor, as if they were not there to talk some reason into the six so they spiral off into their useless games instead, indeed we only hear one female voice on a phone, aside from a couple of records sung by chanteuses on the soundtrack (and mimed to by one of the men in a scene that will have you never hearing Minnie Ripperton in the same way again). If they had brought women along would the men have grown to obsessed with proving themselves in quite this manner, or would they have done so in a different way? Is all male interaction a series of one-upmanship encounters - are all men rivals in such a primal aspect that they cannot understand their impulses and are doomed to repeat the same tribal activities day after day, a vicious cycle of macho posturing that proves nothing in the long run? It was not a sunny view of the masculine gender, and possibly because of that Chevalier was not particularly hilarious, though it was so ridiculous at times (yes, there was a dick measuring contest) that you did laugh a bit. In the end, it was simply too intellectual to be amusing.