Deadly Women (with Matt Fullerty)

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tribeca Film Festival: Review of "Queen to Play"!

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In a world where a chess game is equivalent to a night of steamy passion, you have to be a little skeptical. In Caroline Bottaro's first feature, chess is played up to the extreme, turning the game into an excruciatingly obvious motif throughout the film.

Set in the ever-scenic French Riviera, Queen to Play tells the story of a maid, Hélene (Sandrine Bonnaire), who becomes obsessed with the idea of learning chess—and soon does, with the help of her client (Kevin Kline), a snobby retired doctor. As she spends more of her time "checkmating" the Doctor, she drifts away from her cleaning duties... and her husband. In a way, her chess-playing indulgence is like an affair—and, frankly, it could rightfully be one. According to Bottaro, her film depicts "a real romance" between the mentor and the student, and their chess matches are equivalent to love scenes.

Meanwhile, the idea of the game of chess completely engulfs Hélene's world, rendering her a one-track-minded pawn. Everything from checkered tiles to square tablecloths transforms into a chessboard in her subjectivity—and thus ours too. The problem, besides the fact that this sort of imagery is entirely too obvious and forced, is that at the film's core, it's nearly impossible to connect with this woman. Our leading lady is constantly sullen, mostly expressionless, and uncommunicative. She appears to desire her husband, but then rejects his affection and empathy. But yet, she's consistent in her rendez-vous with the doctor, who (in a pretentious "I'm Kevin Kline but playing a smart doctor who's speaking only in French hah!" kind of way) plays the part of the reluctant teacher who soon falls in love with the soft spoken working class maid in a strange condescending (and maybe metaphorical?) way.

In fact, this marks Kline's first role performed entirely in French, which is apparently depreciating his English skills—at the Q&A after the film screened, he sometimes couldn't find words to verbalize in his native tongue.

You can basically guess how Queen to Play will conclude within the first 20 minutes of the film. You just have to sit through the next hour of hit-you-over-the-head chess metaphors and aloof characters. The film is not an unpleasant experience on the whole—it just doesn't illustrate anything extraordinarily fresh to really care about.

Recommended: Maybe, with reservations

Look out for: Chess pieces thrown in your face...so to speak

Check out Tribeca Film Festival schedule to find the next screening.

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Chess, Film, tribeca film festival, tribeca, Matt Fullerty, Paul Morphy, The Pride and the Sorrow, F Street Review

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