If an alien were to judge women simply by how Hollywood presents them, that alien would think women were neurotic balls of insecure energy whose main goal is to cut everybody else down for the dual goals of getting a man and making themselves feel better. This is largely because Hollywood is controlled by men, and men tend to see women as an Other – that is, a creature who make have many similar physical characteristics as a man, but who might act in ways foreign to how another man might act. Chevalier flips the table asking what men would think if a woman pointed out all of a male’s foibles.
Athina Rachel Tsangari (writer of Mustang) put 7 Greek men on a boat coming home from a fishing trip, and have them compete with one another in a game designed to choose who is “The Best At Everything.” Each of the men have to come up with competitions for each other, including a literal dick-wagging contest of who has the biggest hard-on, but are free to judge each other on everyday common interactions. Does a guy snore? Is he polite? Well spoken? Butch? Brave? A man’s man? And, as with everyday interactions, this whole game is subjective. Somebody’s inability to get their wife pregnant might score fewer negative points than the other guy’s bringing it up as a way to undermine the competition.
Because men are literally judging and rating men based on everything from mannerisms to looks, men turn into neurotic balls of insecure energy whose main goal is to cut everybody else down to size in order to be the man on top. Not only are they jocularly competitive, but they get snipey and downright nasty with each other, spitting up skeletons from the closet at every turn. Tsangari shows no mercy in allowing these mostly butch and hairy men to slice at each other for our amusement.
An American film would use this opportunity to create competitions through feats of strength and other perverse and/or dangerous tasks, continually ramping up the risk until the bleakest of the bleak happens. Not so here. Tsangari doesn’t want to make a film celebrating the cult of masculinity, watching men manly each other in a brotastic competition of chicken. Instead, she’s merely peering into the soul of men as an alien entity whose behavior is foreign but strangely relatable. It’s a deathly dry comedy that seems to want to hold a mirror to men and see what happens when they’re reflected with the same degrees of alienation as they’ve used on women for years.
Clearly Tsangari has a blast putting the men through each other’s gauntlets, and the men are having a blast running through them. She’s created an incisive look into what men worry about, while also commenting on the reductionist viewpoint she’s taking, all the while nudging the audience in the ribs. The goal of the game isn’t important, so much as how that game functions as a catalyst to destroy its players. And, it’s such fun watching all the bricks come tumbling down.