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Dory and the Gay Life Aquatic

Dory and the Gay Life Aquatic

Armond White
Athina Rachel Tsangari's 'Chevalier'

Finding Dory and Chevalier swim toward sexual identity

Ellen Degeneres' cutesy prepubescent voice as the wide-eyed blue tang fish in Finding Dory tells us that this latest Pixar cartoon is about finding oneself. That's also the subject of Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier, a drama about masculinity.

Both sea-based films swim among issues of sexual identity (one is a cartoon, the other a European art film). But where Finding Dory is for children (and adults who think like children), Chevalier is for men, specifically gay men. Its cast of dark-eyed, hairy, bearded Greek archetypes surpass Pixar's eunuchy fantasy to suggest a gay version of Wes Anderson's seafaring The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

The quirky whimsy seen here is part of director-writer Tsangari's scheme; she gives a woman's perspective on the rituals played out when men are openly or secretively in competition with each other. Her cast presents a range of middle-class men who, on a luxury fishing and swimming cruise in the Aegean Sea, carry out an elaborate penis-measuring, ego-stroking pissing contest. They agree to give each other points to decide who is the best (most accomplished, most masculine) of all.

At stake in this competition is a ruby-stone chevalier finger ring, a symbol representing phallic domination like The Maltese Falcon's statuette. This symbol is literalized during a moment Josef (Vangelis Mourikis), one of these bourgeois sailors, suffers a bout of dementia and, deprived of sexual companionship, walks through the below deck cabins sporting an impressive erection. He asks for any takers, raising the issue of suppressed homosexual tension.

Director Tsangari's suspicions reflect contemporary psychosexual concepts about erotic instincts as fluid as the Aegean itself. This mixes with Tsangari's taste in manly traits--her actors, including Panos Koronis as super macho Yorgos, singer Sakis Rouvas as the insecure Christos and Yiorgos Kendros as the group's paternalistic "Doctor" recall a Patrice Chereau gallery of intense, deep-voiced virility.

Tsangari's plot resembles a ship's log--random scenes of fraught behavior, idleness and frolicking that combine sexology and anthropology. Without the eroticism of Kathryn Bigelow's sea tale The Weight of Water. Tsangari simply lectures as when Makis Papadimitirou as pudgy Dimitris does karaoke to Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You," another jab at uncertain masculinity.

Chevalier basically resembles a high-class, intellectualized episode of TV's Survivor or Big Brother. The era of Pixar's asexual juvenile fish tales and adult emotional fluidity has lost the ability to interpret common social experience that once was the basis of Westerns, war movies, detective films, and masterpieces like John Boorman's Deliverance and Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs. In those movies, gayness and masculine identity was part of the essence. Tsangari gets literal-minded in a scene where Yorgos breaks down and refers to "the Secret Society of Friends during the uprising of 1821" to initiate a blood pact: he and Dimitris mime a doggy-style fluid exchange. It's not hot, just obvious.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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