Chevalier : A Film Review

Chevalier. Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. Greece. English subtitles. Duration. 105 mins. Cert. 18. Written by Athina Rachel Tsangari and Efthymis Filippou.

Makis Papadimitriou, Yiorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Vangelis Mourikis, Efthymis Papadimitriou, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Sakis Rouvas, Giannis Drakopoulos, Nikos Orphanos, Kostas Filippoglou.

Synopsis of sorts

The short synopsis provided by a film theatre does a fine job.  As follows. During a week-long excursion on a luxury yacht, six men decide to pass th time by engaging in a game to determine which of them is ‘The Best in Genral’. As the competition escalates through a series of increasingly bizarre contests – which range from deck-swabbing to sleep posture to IKEA assembly – God sportsmanship goes out the window as the men jockey for position.  My blog is intended as additional background without divulging much more than the forementioned.  It tells of the psychology at work, the important pre-existing relationships and of course something about how the Director, Writer, Actors, obtain your interest and entertain.  It is also very funny in stretches as the ‘games’ develop.  Another attendee thought it slow, as I also mention further on, but I think maybe the ‘men’ jokes which I imagine Athina Rachel Tsangari, harvesting over a glass or two of wine with her girlfriends what they might imagine men testing each other with – the funnier for outcome sake – the better.

Director of the finest contemporary auteur order

In 2010 with the film Attenburg, (a mispronounce of Dear David Att..) it was apparent a perceptive social commentary of contemporary Greek life had arose in the form of Athina Rachel Tsangari with an assured grip on technique, abstraction, suspension, all propelled by a tight group of young actors themselves unattached to the mores of the uniform diet of cinema within their nations grasp. This was also followed by what I have to say is an amalgam of cinema, art, drama, and with theatrical intimacy in The Capsule, 2012, which separated, as this film does with men, women into a gender extrapolation as they exist in parallel worlds and own values and rules of conduct.  Here comes a totally different construct with several men in a boat owned by an elderly Doctor  (Yorgos Kendros).  The close proximity of a shared holiday and depredations, rebonding together and as an aside or perhaps even their aim, seeking to know the others form as men for whatever it means and obtain the same about themselves.


The pairings or closeness of the men.

The 6 well to do men have connections in pairs you might say.  The Doctor has a colleague, the unsuccessful suitor as in-law Christo – a well known Greek figure as singer, (Sakis Rouvas).  The next pairing being long standing business partners, the bearded pair  Yorgos (Panos Koronis) and Josef (Vangelis Mourikis) whose exchanges already are tests of each other’s strengths and weaknesses succeeding mainly because of a dignity of evenhanded see practices over decades. Each character shows us how they relate – first through these longer relationships – then as they go on solo runs as it were establishing new or imagined hierarchies.

The pairing of the Doctor and Christos is hinged also to the brothers Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) the Doctors actual son in-law, and Dimitris (Makis Papadimitriou) a brother whose dependencies are due to a form of unexplained autism which has him living at home with his their mother and who requires to be twinned in the accommodation with his over-confident brother. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – some attainment of wealth brings them to a luxury onyx marble walled palatial floating marine hotel.  It is very quickly the case of discovering any issues they, each, have is caught inside, condensed and compressed into a large glass bottle with the lid tightly fixed like a Kinder jar.  An amount of OCD appears. Also  Neurosis, Narcissim, Paranoia, thankfully no psycotic, psychosis I disclose for the overly concerned – ratings must divulge levels of violence anyway. There is a Captain and two crew, cook/chef and gofer, commischef in attendance whose presence is not entirely secondary as they facilitate certain discretionary and have their own outlook on life which they funnily replicate the game which has the 6 transfixed as they reach the end of their otherwise spear fishing, water sports, occupied holiday.  I wanted to use the line – he’s had more issues than the New Yorker but it doesn’t adhere to any of them, as far as me thinks.

img_3418
Yorgos asks Christo
Magnificent ancient civilised location.

The Aegean is a majestic place which Athina Rachel Tsangari cleverly conscripts to place the tale as a timeless study; modern refinements of a comfortable well provisioned boat and assortment of toys at their disposal aside, of male machismo and foibles.  Astutely she fashions a set of parameters; the Captain retains separation with tan not announcements modestly humorous unwittingly of weather forecasts, today will be .. 9 reaching high 20’s .. Please notify any of the crew should you propose to dive later.  The exchanges follow a shore bound spear-fishing exercise which has each party except for Dimitris wet-suited approach a deserted stony beach with their floats, fish and spears.  They separately kill, Octopus, Calimari, and the bream etc, caught before returning together triumphantly satiated with hunter zeal  to the yacht.  There they co-operate in removing the suits as a joint ritual, they then do the round table after fishing talk of the recentl thrill sharing their own separate versions and comparing their sense of the sea ad its purpose.  It is a striking entry and with the sometimes out of focus camera tracing their movements in the beginning in this the merging heat filled environment, who begin emerging as distinct characters with a range of issues.  None immense, if you consider they have devices to manage them for their and they’re companies dignity and are relatively tolerated.  The psycologogy of males interests both the writer and she asks us to concede, with ease, the group share the same curiosity for self or other more obtuse reasons.  Certainly the pairings exact tensions even though there is no visible or extension of mental bonds on the surface for anyone to take into account.  It is when they embark on the authors device of challenging each other to obtain their status within the general scheme of things they embark on the strange game of ‘The Best in General’.  It is the trophy sentiment of the title which is a contest to conquest over their fellow compatriots.

img_3417

The friendships alliances are set the test of scrutinizing every aspect of their behaviour, from their physical appearance, self management, resistance to temptation, manner of speaking, addressing strangers or companions, sharing of intimate details of their lives to some degree, of erudition and learned skills such as meal preparation and all degrees of civility or culpability in between.  And there is an ongoing fertility exam of the erection kind which has various meas of delivery of proof of content.  Along with the Doctor lead medical exam which Dimitris displays a phobias to and his   is to provide an entertainment interlude which is to be judged as all things are judged under each mans watchful eye. There are genuinely serious singular internalised torments held inside each of the characters heads.  If you think long enough you will grasp a dilemma of some seriousness image within each person.  One fellow watcher said it was very slow to get going, had little to interest the youthful her, and it was damned with faint praise because of its eccentric European vibe.  It is after all of enough substance to attain Best Film at the London Film Festival. 


Alternative over informative views

Reviewers I have now read concerning this film spend too much type on telling you the entire story, not its shape of comparative states of entry to it but one even gives a blow by blow account of the completion of the spoils referencing the hole shebang and frankly it does not even come close do doing any, any part of the film or the Directors sense of the male construct – physical content defrocked, or any sense of place in contemporary life in this part of Europe.  The abandoned resort hotel which is a large part of the central location of the film doesn’t get a mention – (I saved that bit! – it’s not a spoiler in ant event!) but it is as annoying as bejesus to have that seen as a valid review given its overt dependence on – looking at, noting word for word repartee?  Everyone will come away with favourite lines, there are plenty of gems to choose from, and many surprises and individual performances and formidablely questioning scenes ar invested in by actors for our study and interpretation.  It is beautiful in that sense – that you go with it and find out about the characters I have the beginning loosened you into by describing some elements of already existing relations that add value to the concentration required in the minutiae of detail, cinematographer editor and camera person dispose for the Director, Writers on the story.


Conclusion ####4

A excellent entertaining psychological mind twisting drama.  Loving written, tender realisation in a sun splitting post Ancient Greece, neuvo post EU crash austerity almost criminal disregard of a nation by its neighbours despite their all along know tax discrepancies – who in the EU watched on?  Turned a blind eye and left the vultures in.  This is periferally addressed by the use of a once luxurious sea fronting hotel slap bang in the midst of the azure Aegean.  Reflections on self are made and on others via. comical inquisitive games which touch raw nerves as well as expose the realties existing – an iceberg analogy is not misplaced with the visible public multi-faceted self the top while underneath are the – and there are possible connections made in reference to the experiences of each individual to actual diving – vulnerabilities ever present.

Athina Rachel Tsangari is a very gifted all rounder with a mind plundering the male and female psyche and the allegiances, separations, risks and rewards taken and with an insightful magical way of developing the themes around an apparent story of men enjoying each other’s company away from conventional pressures and indulging in sports or explorations which are the stuff possible of younger energetic souls.  It’s complex and emotionally intelligent despite the presence of the ‘make up girls weird games’ possible trawl which my imagined generator for the different weird aspects.   Some culinary tips no doubt correct are snippets of finessing story relationships along with the boat owner – the Doctor – having an outward control while underlying problems emerge.  He and Christos use fitness rowing machines – not like Srs Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinset – more routine and this is typical as a a means of proposing your insight to character being lead by nuances and otherwise – the use of games makes the viewer adopt it is suggested – the same queries seen.

Very watchable but slightly hard to get into – empathy on my part counts – and a rewarding watch.  Not a massively mind shifting experience but certain to make you rearrange some thoughts, allow some slack or give further thought to otherwise ‘for appearances sake’ propositions.  Excellent.  Music is excel

Net also but early very compelling bass, garage, loose funk as they get on the boat after their beach landing is not followed up unfortunately – nor is there the mercurial Vangelis Papathounoisious music utilised.  I can tell you the ending song is byChessingtons greatest and beautiful.  There is a soxties Karaoke very good insert which you will remember long after i imagine.

John Graham

20 July 2016

Belfast

On at QFT Belfast from Froday 22 July to 28 July 2016.  On general UK release. I wonder if Mark Kermode likes it?  It’s occasionally his excuse he’s forgetting minor things as Mayo quizzes him on his industrial strength film prober mind.

His take on the last film I reviewed The Neon Demon was by his account worthy of its mixed – I like mixed opinions he proposed (a bit of a guide I think between those who ‘watched it’ and those who viewed it) – reception.  It was fairly and plainly not as worthy as many make it out to be.  One was completely off the mark saying it could become a cult classic.  It was unfortunately unrewarding and a waste of the talent on view.

The Two Faces of January : A Film Review

imageThree people. Many faces.

The Two Faces of January.
Dir. Hossein Almani. 12a. 1hr 36mins.

Writers of a certain kind.
Missing from the large print in the Film release poster is the name Patricia Highsmith, the writer of the 1964 novel The Two faces of January which maybe points to insecurity on the publicist’s part knowing the novelist has a certain fixed clientele.
On Patricia Highsmiths part she followed in a tradition of modern female thriller writers, Daphne de Maurier, Agatha Christie and more recently P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell and Ruth Rendel all who liked a good cliffhanger and their readers liked being captured by intrigue. Patricia Highsmith also wrote The Talented Mr Ripleya.

Thriller writers sometimes favoured the heady salty air of exotic locations and following on from the renowned 1963 marriage of the Greek shipping magnate Aristotile Onnassis to Jackie Kennedy and the yacht and gold encrusted lifestyle that lay before the public Patricia Highsmith took up our curiosity of the people you might expect to be holidaying in Athens and the Greek islands, of their pursuits and reasons for being there. Made a change from the Philip Marlowe genre of crime fiction and thrillers with numerous nasty twists and turns.
In her novel the central pair meet up with a fellow American who, like them has his own reasons to be away from his homeland. Very little of it is to do with the wonders Greece has to offer. It is there merely a tool in their own complex refuge from whatever burden is in play that they are unable to face or deal with.

Ancient Mediterranean
The lengthy attraction of the Mediterranean climate was and is one of the wonders of the world. From Athens itself to the groups of islands, like Ios where Homer is buried with its Irish Over Seas manacle and it’s 365 plus churches crammed onto a small piece of paradise with clear blue waters and charismatic spring carpet of violets, to the Apollonian haunts of Naxos where Dionysus the god of fertility, wine and drama, a saintly trinity! worshipped, to the volcanic Santorini, to the island of three known identities, Mythilene, Lesbos or Kastros, to the 3000bc to 1100bc Minoan ruins of Knossos on Crete, home of the Minotaur, the islands were made to explore and dine on by the yachting set as well as the ferried tourist. This was a godsend of a place and time for any novelist to turn up highly imaginative exotic and adventurous drama.

While the book has to set up the atmosphere of locations, the harbour side tavernas, the ever present antiquity, the opulence of some quarters and the pace of life, the film drenches you from the get go with the entrancing images in which the characters pop up. The laidback relaxed anonymity of the tourist locations suits it seems, the main characters, Colette the breezy Kirsten Dunst, all attractive, refreshing and as intoxicating as a mint julep only a permanently sustaining delicacy. Her husband Chester, Viggo Mortensen is onto his third marriage and this one might be for keeps, foolish not to, as his chain smoking and whiskey chasing lifestyle might in any case make it his last marriage anyway and so he hopes it will endure. They are a loved up union and clearly react to each other’s take on life on an equal footing. Adventure seems a real driver for both. There is a considerable difference in age also.

When they encounter the young tour guide Rydal, Oscar Issacs they establish a rapport almost instantly and hook up on a firm footing to share each other’s compainionship as fellow Americans. It suits both parties and the not so impressionable Chester has his guard up straight away and marks up one initial day to try out the tourist and tour guide thing. He has his reasons for getting into the tourist mindset, if only to actually become one and take whatever is on his mind off it, take stock, forge an experience for himself and Collette.

So there you have it a chance encounter has set up the intrigue of what these people are really about. Apart from being here as opposed to the lesser choice of elsewhere, it is not a bad place to wander into this dilemma. The scenery and old buildings, the luxury of Grand living are there. Chester fills ashtrays in the swankIest joints and has the beautiful wing woman Collete as his dearest and adored partner.

This aperitif, the luxurious quarters, the random choices made of itinerary are a prelude to the anticipated twists within this fortuitous situation, one that changes once the engagement of Rydal is in play. A flick of the pen and Patricia Highsmith alters things. Rydal does a routine rip off routine when it comes to trading with the locals as is nothing more than a boost to his earnings. It also is a racket most seem to engage in as far as the relatively rich tourist is concerned.

We come hopeful of well worked narrative and jeopardy and are not in the least going to be disappoInted. They did things differently when this film was set. 1964. Apart from smoking a great deal, they had no double jeopardy of late night clubs, cheap alcohol and decibels piled high. No overcrowded streets. This was old Athens and from Piraeus port the ferries docked and transported all and sundry to and from the islands.
The only thing that struck me as unreal being the efficiency of the seafaring and transport. Taxi cabs were as usual cash devouring and fares etc. ad hoc but they were clean and shiny and the city had a sense of deserved pride. Waiters, (no waitresses) were not hard to find and while the writer/director did not introduce any discourse of anxiety it was probably because the tables the companions were usually at tipped generously. Part of the Greek dining experience is that it is expected to be laid back.
There is also a Greek relaxed engagement when Ouzo and wine loosen the atmosphere. As far as lively entertainment, well it is also relaxed and normal as you would expect culturally. Today is totally different so this period piece enjoys another set of standards.

It packs a punch
In Athens the two faces of Chester become quickly apparent and it begins an hectic journey of suspense, disbelief, emotion and sequences cleverly conceived and delivered by screenwriter, director, Hossein Amini whose mix of close ups and action, dark interiors, period exactness – in an early scene, was the terrace taverna of the Grandest part of Athens so probably indecently correct in every detail, table lights instead of candles and fine unrusticated furniture. Indecently correct and opulent.

Oscar Issacs has his work cut out from the get go also and given his lust which outmanoeuvres any money advancement to be gained from his rich commisioner, he is kept sufficiently on his toes to know he should chose his footsteps carefully.
Both men do not trust each other and at a level up from normal tourist mistrust.

There is movement of location and some Greek islands feature.
The season is indeterminate but for a ‘January’ it looks a shade too unshady.
There are a few other destinations in line and this only reinforces the period atmosphere and the continuity of life, the pace pre Visa card, pre backpack and scooter, pre packaged, pre bucket shop holidays. Pre Troika and bad, really bad banking and governments juicing its public to pay for it and its cohorts corruption. This was religious, (generalising) flat capped Greece, marine and agrarian, getting on with its gift of hospitality and their loyal attachment to the ancient, almost intrinsic essence of their intriguing heritage and present lifestyle.
It is also an irreversible time never to be replicated except in books and works of drama.

The Two faces of January
If anything the drama we encounter is relativly off centre and not ground breaking or world changing. It is a tight drama which has nerves (for the more sensitive among you!) jangling befitting the writers compulsion to surprise. They knew also how to tailor, making suits tough, as Chester’s lasts a very long time and seems to have been constructed by James Bond’s apparel maker.
Heavy grade linen compressed and refined Irish super stock?!

I was going to mention there was no mention of January and just did.
This allusion seems to fit the story and the film title very loosely.
The purpose of the title, I have not read the book, could be intrinsically linked with the following if you wanted to extend credit to the authors ultimate framework which does merit much credit and should and does offer cunning facility to the story.

The Two faces of January is far removed from the pace of mainland Europe than we are used to imagining but such is the adroitness of the director, and the cinematographer in nimbly framing this past era it instantly evokes the Patricia Highsmith attentiveness to the crucial isolation found in the narrative. She gives the characters narrow choices in this Mediterranean cluster by virtue of its many faces.

There is a clear play on words in the title with the Roman diety Janus, Janus-faced having the implicit recognition of two contradictory aspects found.
Who could that possibly be?!
Being an Aquarian (January) I am quite upset at the notion and contest it vigorously but on the other hand … !
Given the Roman habit of creating Saints; a miracle took place recently in Rome when the JP2 and the other one were welcomed into the fold, St Januaris may have fallen short of the administered deity we imagine is necessary. Men make Saints and ignore God’s teaching.

Viggo Mortesen is convincing and consistently unpredictable, playing this part with a restraint and affability true to his character and displays some wry confidence belying the stacking changes that occur. A well constructed, hard won confidence ‘attribute’ of the personality acted out. His concerns are not helped by a growing worry he is being challenged in the relationship stakes by his new companion and what he might have in mind.
He might not get a mint julep but having access to whiskey helps his mind organise and wipe out temporary concerns. Things always change.

Kirsten Dunst plays a classic companion with little misjudgement in evidence save her unstated desires, which makes her slightly unreadable and occasionally her fragility surfaces and Kirsten Dunst gets to create a little more depth to the simplified characterisation she has to deal with, alongside the evolving story dominated by the intensity Viggo Mortensen gets to play out. Patricia Highsmith maybe was not interested in framing bigger and complex detail not wanting it to get in the way of a basically formulaic adventure story. Only sometimes does it conspire to give Collette more memorable and provocative feminine traits in grabbing custody of events.

Conclusion.
#### 4

This is an excellent classic thriller piece with a tight narrative. With hooks and little space to manouvre it creates a tension all the way through with fluctuating and never straight moral choices impinging. Certain fixed positions are taken for self preservation reasons mainly and the Mediterranean location heightens the contrasts of sedentary and adventure driven lives. There is little antiquity involved. When it does appear initially it is the youthful, Parthenon, then the civilisation of some almost five thousand years ago makes an appearance as a mere backdrop setting for more twists.

Hossein Almani has crafted a very attractive movie, well acted by all characters, with spot on minor roles also and Almani relied on his wise cinematic instinct to tell his version of a story with changing pace, alteration, changing evocative scenery and dramatic sequences all working at what cinema is best at delivering convincing dramatic environments. This is where also ecapism, emotional realism, historic tales and fantasy convey story.

This film should succeed in convincing you the art of cinema has many faces as it captures the sense of genus loci of Greece with a characters and human interest at the edge of rare dilemma.
The Two Faces of January is entertainIng, fairly intense, taut and offers up the Janus personality traits of characters you hopefully avoid on your travels and for that matter anytime.

QFT Friday 16 May 2014 through to 29 May 2014 (check June listing to see if any carry over into June.)

John Graham

15 May 2014

Belfast