Queen to Play
Leave it to the French to take a cerebral and kind of stodgy pursuit like
chess and try to make it rather sexy. Even more to the point, only the
French would actually come pretty close to succeeding.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the film stars the striking actress Sandrine
Bonnaire (Monsieur Hire, Intimate Strangers) as our guide into the
sensuous world of knights and Queens on the French Riviera.
story is about
a middle-aged chambermaid who finds a sense of self through her coincidental
discovery of the game – which becomes symbolic to her of a luxurious,
sensuous life that her more pedestrian home life had long ago lost.
Bonnaire plays the role with a somber aging beauty and a sense of desperate
is long married to handsome man, but the fire has been out for quite a
while. Her children are nearly grown. She makes a living cleaning up after
tourists in a fabulous local hotel. Still the bills are far from being paid
and her husband is having trouble holding a job, so she supplements her
income by cleaning homes.
vague sense of malaise has settled over
Hélène. She no longer even dares to dream that her life could be
as romantic and exciting as she once hoped.
This all changes one
day when she is cleaning a room at the hotel and sees a glamorous American
couple (Domenic Gould & Jennifer Beals) wiling away the afternoon on their
patio, playing a strangely erotically charged game of chess.
determined to learn the game – one she has always dismissed as trivial – as
a way to capture some of the luxurious romance of the couple.
Her husband and friends
do not support her new interest in the game, so Hélène asks one of her
cleaning clients – a mysterious American ex-patriot named Dr. Kroeger (Kevin
Kline) – to give her lessons. She turns out to be something of a natural at
the game and enjoys the intellectual give and take of the lessons. However,
to pretty much the entire village, her visits to learn the game are mistaken
Queen to Play
is essentially a slightly intellectual take on the
old sports movie formula – a game allows an unsatisfied person to discover a
whole wider world. However, there are just enough European quirks added to
the recipe that it is wonderfully fulfilling.
Also due to a wonderful
performance by Bonnaire, the film is a fascinating look at aging. Hélène is
so cut off that her face appears completely blank around people – only to
explode into emotion when she is alone. Bonnaire does a wonderful job of
communicating the disappointment and numbing boredom of Hélène’s life.
As for the American
imported actors – Kline and Beals – both acquit themselves extremely well,
particularly considering they are performing under the handicap of speaking
completely in a second language. In fairness, Kline’s character does have a
single line – a quotation – in English. Beals, whose role is much smaller,
says only one word in English. Not surprisingly, that word is “chess.”
There is nothing earth-shaking about Queen to Play, but the film is
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 1, 2011.