Is playing chess sexy? In the new film, “Queen to Play,” it is. Passion for the game and what it elicits from its participants is at the heart of this compellingly clever dramedy.
Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire), a chambermaid at a Corsican luxury hotel, observes a couple playing chess while cleaning their room. The powerful sensual exchange between the two (Jennifer Beals and Dominic Gould) strangely arouses her. So much so, she purchases an electronic chess game for her handsome husband (Francis Renaud) as a birthday gift. He’s puzzled. She’s excited.
Her husbands’s lack of interest sparks hers. She becomes obsessed with the game and plays in the middle of the night. When she discovers a chess set at the home of the reclusive American professor Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline), for whom she cleans, Helene asks him to play. Reluctantly, he agrees, and eventually realizes she’s a natural. The two become intimate without ever touching.
That’s the beauty of “Queen to Play.” Two strangers evolve into an unlikely couple. He comes out of his shell while she finds the excitement so long missing from her life. Helene’s relationship with her husband and daughter are enhanced by her newfound passion, and all becomes right with the world.
Caroline Bottaro’s directorial debut is definitely a dandy. She’s acutely aware of her leading lady’s disarming beauty and immense talent and uses it expertly. Her camera serves as the third participant in every exchange between her characters as well as the chessboard. The mere raising of Kline’s eyebrow or Bonnaire’s exotic smile speak volumes sans words. A lovely score and lush locales enhance the perfection of this wonderful film.
Some movies contain moments that etch themselves forever in the mind of the viewer. “Queen to Play” has many. My favorite is when Helene and Kroger play an imaginary game of chess gazing into one another’s eyes. Their love is chaste, their bond impenetrable.
Kline (“A Fish Called Wanda”) and Bonnaire (“Vagabond”) give their finest screen performances ever in “Queen to Play.” It’s a casting coup made in heaven. Their chemistry is reminiscent of that between Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.” And, shockingly, Kline speaks fluent French, providing an extra “piece de resistance.” Ooh la la!
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