Chevalier and Sherpa: My LFF Highlights

This year I decided to attend a few films from the BFI LFF’s selection. I was lucky enough to catch showings of:

  1. The Assassination
  2. Office (3D)
  3. Chevalier
  4. Sherpa
  5. Steve Jobs

I also saw, outside of the festival the new Denis Villeneuve film Sicario which I liked a lot. However, here I’d like to talk about Chevalier and Sherpa, winners of the Official Competition and Grierson Award for documentary film.

Chevalier

Chevalier

Winner of the official competition at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival, Chevalier is a boy-ish comedy from Athena Rachel Tsangari who some might recognise as a producer of Dogtooth and Before Midnight.

I really liked the dry comedy about this film. Firstly, the premise is completely absurd but not impossible. We’ve all had those moments, privately with friends, when things can become a bit weird, heated and as you become a little older unfortunately sometimes selfishly competitive. In regular speak, it’s keeping up with the Joneses. To Tsangari, that’s funny, and it becomes “Who’s the best in general?”

Set aboard a small-ish luxury seafaring vessel where it’s crew after having caught fish of varying quantity and quality find themselves with a little too much underlying tension one evening and have to resolve it. Objectively and methodically they devise a game that will determine which of the group is the best in general at life. An interesting concept as these days in an extremely social era where one’s capacities in self-projection and personal embellishment can actually be worth something; tying someone down and finding out their true strengths, weaknesses and quirky fortes is intangible.

This isn’t a job interview though. These tests set forth as part of this twisted (or enlightened?) game are as smart as their creators, henceforth, largely completely pointless and stupid. Who sleeps with the best posture; how well people’s trousers fit; best cook and of course it all boils down to the one part of a man of which he is either most secure or most insecure. Every inch counts here.

The winner wins the Chevalier ring, a MacGuffin of sorts; no-one cares for the ring in the audience or on the boat. What they want to establish is a military-like order of command which leaves me wondering how useful this is in social situations. Are friendship groups consisting of people with more Chevalier-points than other members more likely to fail and have internal strife than mates living on the same rung of social status? Is escaping from the reality of home and work, the reality of societal hierarchy, to a beautiful boat coasting the Greek islands the only place where kings could ever walk with the common man?

I really enjoyed this film. The jokes were funny with multiple scenarios having myself and the audience wailing. I watched Antonioni’s L’Avventura recently and was reminded of it fondly as the boat coasted smoothly, skipping the waves that lapped gently into tall, stoic cliffs.

*Scrawls 7.7/10 into notepad*

Sherpa

Sherpa

Trailer

This was my personal favourite of the films I saw at LFF and one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. With enough money you can accomplish anything these days, even things previously only attempted by mankind’s most trained or genetically competent; things like scaling Everest. That’s right, hauling people up the mountain is an industry now many probably didn’t know existed, in fact, it contributes significantly to Nepal’s economy and the Sherpas doing the hauling are now some of the most well paid Nepalese civilians there are.

But of course with mo’ money comes mo’ problems. Australian Director Jennifer Peedom, herself an avid climber and adventurer who has spent the best part of the last ten years in and around Nepal captures perfectly the mood of everyone involved in a certain climb operator’s company from the customers, to the management, to the team of Sherpas and their families when an avalanche catches them all off guard and changes everything.

Peedom and her editing team work wonders in giving context to the every person’s feelings and actions as the film progresses. We hear from Tenzing Norgay’s son who explains the history of the relationship between Sherpas and the Western man; how they were considered kind, smiling, super- powerful heroes of the mountain. We meet an experienced Sherpa who nears the world record for most successful summits, we meet his worried-sick wife and innocent children who fear for his life more than he does.

As with many great documentaries, things change in the course of filming and the film never quite turns out as expected. My favourite doc is without doubt Burden of Dreams as like in Sherpa with nothing going wrong it would be a lot less powerful, too planned. Imagine how Peedom and crew must have felt to have gone up the mountain (largely off the back of a scuffle that happened between European climbers and Sherpas in 2013) and have their whole film’s tone dropped massively when such a tragedy as a block of ice killing 16 Sherpas happens – unexpected emotional turmoil that they could of walked away from but instead chose to shoot.

The most interesting part of the film, and without giving away too much, is the isolated gathering of people at base camp after the disaster. Like in Burden of Dreams many issues are raised regarding the risks Sherpas take to literally provide a service for people they don’t know or like particularly – at the time of filming their families wouldn’t even be provided enough cash for a proper burial arrangement if the worst happened. Not to mention the subtle superiority complex many of the Westerner’s garner over the Sherpas. The expedition operator drones on about how they earn so much more so they can feed their families but does he not realise these people have been living where they have long before the white man started paying them to be porters? The way the people react to one another and resolve things is incredible.

ALL the drama is captured so well, I could barely contain myself watching it. On top of all that, you’re on bloody Everest. It looks just like it could be narrated by Attenborough himself; there are plenty of time-lapse, drone cams and huge swinging panning shots that are just pure Earth porn.

8.5 Sir Edmund Hillarys out of 10.

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