Review: Queen to Play DVD

Queen To Play DVD coverSTUDIO: Zeitgeist | DIRECTOR: Caroline Bottaro | CAST: Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Beals, Francis Renaud
8/16/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.99
BONUSES: featurette
SPECS: NR | 97 min. | Foreign language romantic drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | stereo | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Queen to Play movie scene

Kevin Kline teaches Sandrine Bonnaire the ins and outs of chess in Queen to Play.

Based on Bettina Henrich’s 2006 novel, Queen to Play is one of the more appealing films about chess that we’ve seen over the years. Not as intense as Searching for Bobby Fischer and much warmer than the romantic drama The Luzhin Defense, Queen to Play is admittedly not as sexy as the chess scene between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair. Still, two out of three ain’t bad…

In the movie, Sandrine Bonnaire (La Ceremonie) plays Helene, a simple and nominally happy married women who works as a chambermaid in a small hotel in scenic, sun-kissed Corsica. Spotting a couple playing a sensual game of chess on their balcony, Helene finds herself aroused and takes up the game herself, buying her gruntish but loving husband (Francis Renaud) an electronic chessboard in the hopes of firing him up, as well.  Sadly, it doesn’t work…

Still captivated by the game, Helene convinces a reclusive American ex-patriot, Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline, No Strings Attached) to instruct her in the ins and outs of the game. As her talent at chess emerges, Helene finds herself torn between her husband and kids and an obsession with the game, which leads her to a local chess tournament.

With its beautiful Corsican backdrop, unobtrusive direction by writer/director Caroline Bottaro (her first feature) and fine performances by journeywoman Bonnaire and Kline (in a French-speaking role!), Queen to Play goes down with ease and charm. Though Helene and husband are experiencing financial problems and a marital dry patch, their woes are never so insistent that the sly charm of Helen’s re-awakening via her newfound love of chess is overwhelmed. The story is about Helene, not her surrounding situations, which she learns how to approach and strategize as her chess skills grow.

Of course, the game of chess can be compared to a game of life, but Bottaro isn’t too heavy-handed with the obvious metaphors. She subtlely accents the game’s more passive aspects — players and their glances, gestures and even silences — putting forth the idea that the growing intimacy and understanding between those playing the game is where the real power (and humanity) can be found.

The sole bonus feature on the DVD is a 20-minute featurette with interviews with director Bottaro, Kline, Bonnaire and co-star Jennifer Beals (TV’s The Chicago Code). Bottaro is the most illuminating of the bunch, beginning with her story of how she first came upon the source material (she lived in the same apartment building as author Henrichs). She also discusses the research she engaged in while preparing for the film’s production, which included talking to the French Chess Federation, attending a bunch of tournaments and speaking to many of the players. It paid off.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.