Queen to Play
Published: May 25, 2011
Queen to Play
Directed by Caroline Bottaro
Opens May 27 at the Charles Theatre
Writer/director Caroline Bottaro’s feature debut offers Sandrine Bonnaire a chance to strut her considerable acting stuff in this lighthearted but smart tale of a woman who takes up chess as a means of both social mobility and creative empowerment. Bonnaire’s Hélène cleans rooms at a Corsican hotel, where she spies two American travelers playing chess. To her, the couple looks like everything she’s not: sophisticated, educated, confident, in charge of their lives and destinies. Hélène becomes intensely curious about the game, and even tries to encourage her husband Ange (Francis Renaud) to play with her to no avail. Soon, she’s fascinated, reading books and teaching herself to play. Her game—and how she thinks about herself and her life—rapidly changes once she starts playing chess with Dr. Kröger (Kevin Kline), an American professor whose house she cleans to make a little extra money.
Adapted from Bertina Henrichs’ novel The Chess Player, Queen to Play is in many ways not too much different from those boilerplate woman-getting-her-groove-back flicks that Hollywood dependably churns out, but it feels a tad more satisfying for some reason. Perhaps it’s because in a Hollywood flick the Kröger/Hélène relationship would be more overtly romantic than spirited friendship. Perhaps it’s because though Hélène’s husband and teenage daughter (Alexandra Gentil) progress from adversaries to champions as they would in a Hollywood movie, they do so with less hoariness. And perhaps it’s just because Bonnaire unpeels Hélène’s confidence with a measured skill, such that when she finally enters a local chess tournament, the outcome may feel predestined, but this deliberately paced confection makes a contrivance feel earned.
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