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Locarno: ‘Attenberg’ Director Returns with Another Twisted Gender Comedy, ‘Chevalier’

Locarno: 'Attenberg' Director Returns with Another Twisted Gender Comedy, 'Chevalier'

Athina Rachel Tsangari, one in the new wave of Greek filmmakers that includes Yorgos Lanthimos (whose Cannes entry “The Lobster” will play the New York Film Festival) returns with Locarno competition premiere “Chevalier.” Her flippant comedy “Attenberg,” from 2010, was a dark treat about a sexually precocious young woman obsessed with wildlife documentaries.

This time she skewers male one-upmanship as a group of pals on a yacht fishing and diving vacation agree to compete in a game of grading everything about each other; the winner will accrue the most points at the end of the trip. They take this contest so seriously (as do their support staff) that they monitor everything from cholesterol and snoring levels to cabinet construction and literal dick measuring. “Chevalier” is yet another absurdly hilarious comedy of gender dynamics that could put Tsangari closer on the arthouse map to the more fanciful Lanthimos. 

Over the course of “Chevalier,” friendships are indeed tested, gossip circulates and flaws are scrutinized, all within the confines of the boat. The minimalist setting fits a premise so tightly contained that it constantly threatens to become overly precocious. Instead, Tsangari maintains an impressive grasp of each man’s oddball tendencies, yielding a fascinating — if occasionally meandering — study of competitive spirit.

Manhood-measuring contests — in every imaginable sense of the phrase — are taken to brazenly literal extremes in “Chevalier,” the long-awaited third feature from Greek multi-tasker Athina Rachel Tsangari. Markedly different in focus and emotional temperature from her 2010 breakthrough “Attenberg,” this committedly deadpan comedy of manners, morals and men behaving weirdly boasts a contained conceit seemingly ripe for unfettered absurdism: On a luxury yacht in the Aegean Sea, six male acquaintances embark on a rigorous series of personal and physical challenges, mercilessly grading each other to determine who is “The Best in General.” That Tsangari resists escalating the conflict, counting on subtle political insinuations to emerge as these perplexing social Olympics wear on, will leave as many viewers enervated as amused, but it’s an expertly executed tease.

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