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Queen to Play the Movie

Queen to Play the Movie

Apr 2, 2011, 4:06 PM 5

Queen to Play


People love sports movies. Winning, losing, overcoming the odds, losing when you are the favorite. All of these make sports movies entertaining.  But there are two characteristics of writer/director Caroline Bottaro’s debut feature Queen to Play that don’t automatically denote a generic sports movie: it’s French, and it’s about chess. (1)

Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a working mother. She cleans apartments and hotel rooms for a meager living. Her husband Ange (Francis Renaud) is a day laborer. Neither make much money and expenses are on their mind.  From my real life experiences, I know this is hard on a teenager.  Put in a class that is always looked down upon.  As society becomes more dependent on computers, PDAs, and SmartPhones, the class divide becomes larger. The daughter begins to show a deep resentment.

Helene seems to notice chess in places.  People playing in public and chess sets inside the apartments she keeps.  Helene cleans the artifact-stuffed apartment of ornery American professor Kroger (a masterfully restrained Kevin Kline, who speaks volumes in his facial expressions alone), she finds his chess set and her interest grows.

Helene buys a small electronic chess set as a birthday present for her husband, who is baffled as to why she would get him such a gift, and quickly becomes frustrated in his attempts to play the game. Helene, meanwhile, grows instantly obsessed, getting out of bed and playing each night. It becomes her vice, causing problems for her at work and home. (1)

She eventually gets the courage to ask Kroger (played by Kevin Kline - he first all French film) if he’ll play a game with her, and he reluctantly agrees. He is impressed with her skill.  They play weekly and it becomes a lesson in chess and a therapy session for Kroger who is a widower. Something besides work and surviving comes alive in Helen via chess and in Kroger via the friendship

Queen to Play is considered a very good film by the critics. It’s quiet beauty is why everything works so well, but there are moments the critics find that are out-of-place or overdone.  But what film is perfect?  It is based on the novel by Bernita Henrichs, Queen to Play.

The Seattle Times says: 


"Chess is here both metaphor — a symbol of the life Hélène dreams of, in which any move is possible — and a means to an end, as she realizes her own worth and her ability to change her future. As she learns more about chess, she becomes more confident; even to the point of sexily flirting with the doctor simply by reciting chess moves, which never before sounded so hot. (In a more conventional movie, Hélène might have had an affair with the doctor; what happens here is less obvious and more interesting.)

Bonnaire beautifully captures her character's simmering intelligence and vague discontent; Kline, performing his entire role in French for the first time, again proves himself a master of the raised eyebrow. Shot in sunny Corsica, whose beauty gives the film an added dimension of pleasure, "Queen to Play" shows us a world opening up, with a game as its gateway"

I still have not been able to find out if it will have a theatrical release.  Due out soon on DVD.

It was released in certain areas on Friday, May 13 and is critic's pick by the Washington Post.

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