This year’s London Film Festival finished yesterday. I usually try to see several films in the festival and this year I saw eight. Almost every film was really good. Some highlights were ‘Tangerine’ which is a hilariously wild journey across Los Angeles driven by a jealous transsexual prostitute and her aspiring singer friend, ‘Son of Saul’ which is a dramatic and devastating account of a Hungarian-Jewish Sonderkommando prisoner in Auschwitz who is charged with burning the dead, and ‘Office’ which is a 3D Hong Kong musical about office politics and corporate overspending that includes the most stunningly beautiful film set. I also saw director Todd Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy and actresses Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett interviewed at BAFTA for the film ‘Carol.’ Everyone should go see this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt” because it is one of the most beautiful and romantic films I’ve ever seen. The only disappointing film I saw was Terence Davies’ ‘Sunset Song’ which felt so artificial and tedious. However, one of my top highlights was a Greek film called ‘Chevalier.’
This film was directed and written by female filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari, but is all about six men who spend approximately a week having a holiday on a yacht in the Aegean Sea. After the screening Tsangari told the audience she was initially inspired to make a film that involved men peeling each other’s skin off, but because this was too expensive she filmed the men as divers who at the beginning of the film emerge out of the water and peel each other’s wetsuits off. This brilliantly sets the tone of the movie as it is about the intense intimacy and competition between these male friends. Out of boredom and a friendly sense of rivalry, the men form a game to determine which of them is judged the best. The prize for the man who wins is to wear a victory Chevalier ring. However, their competitions are far from your standard games. Each man is judged on things such as how he sleeps, his heath based on blood tests, how fast he cleans, the size of his erection, how quickly he can build a flat-packed shelving unit or how well he lip syncs to a pop song. In the midst of these activities every man carries a notebook where he assiduously records the points being assigned to each man after performing some ridiculous activity.
The series of competitions these men engage with hilariously send up masculinity and the male ego. There is a warm-hearted camaraderie where the men will occasionally console each other when they fail at activities while simultaneously judging them. At the same time it tells a compelling story where the relationships between the men are gradually revealed over the course of the film. Meanwhile, there are periodic announcements made in the yacht informing the men of the day’s weather or what they will be having for desert that evening. This creates the effect where the boat itself seems to be regulating and judging them in addition to the crew who make bets about which man will win. This film is such a compelling way of gently making fun of the construct of masculinity that reminds me of Andrew McMillan’s recent poetry collection “Physical” and Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “What I Lived For.” ‘Chevalier’ is also a highly enjoyable and thoughtful film to watch. It was awarded the Best Film Award at this year's BFI London Film Festival.