|It stars a fine actress -- one who is consistently popular with this particular audience -- Sandrine Bonnaire (Angel of Mine, Intimate Strangers, Vagabond, Her Name is Sabine) and our own Kevin Kline (doing his first full-out French-language role), with help from Jennifer Beals (looking gorgeous in a small but pivotal role) and French hunk Francis Renaud (The Code, Chrysalis), who brings great warmth and humanity to Bonnaire's confused husband. Written and directed by Caroline Bottaro (above, right), a newcomer who has previously directed only one 15-minute short, the movie deftly juggles intelligence and emotion, plot and theme, bringing everything home to rest in thoroughly winning fashion without, thankfully, overplaying anything.|
|Seraphine walked away with that same year's Cesar for best film and best actress: Has France an untapped resource in its femmes de ménage?) One day, as Hélène cleans a room, the inhabitants of which are out on the terrace, she becomes fascinated while watching through windblown curtains as the pair plays chess. This fascination grows even more in the home of another of her clients (Professor Kröger, played by Kline) who also enjoys the game.|
The Seventh Seal to one of the worst movies ever to win a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar (Dangerous Moves) to the somewhat obvious and disappointing Searching for Bobby Fischer and that pivotal scene in the original (and quite pretentious: the remake was so much more fun) Thomas Crown Affair. In the annals of chess-on-film, Queen to Play may be among the best, due to Ms Bottaro's ability to suggest an idea rather than bat us over the head with it. What draws Hélène to this game? It probably has to do with the way in which she, as a woman, can relate to her male partner while playing. This will come to effect her relationship with her husband, her client (Mr. Kline's professor) and finally some other important men. As I say, all of this is merely suggested, as is so much else in the movie. But mulling over Bottaro's many "suggestions" adds immensely to our pleasure.
|Babe. Rather than watching a pig being told that he cannot do something for which he is clearly talented but lacks the canine qualifications, we see a woman begin to excel at a man's game -- and then pay for it. This, of course, sends out all sorts of feminist feelers (not to mention the issue of class: the couple's daughter brings this to the fore), but fortunately Ms Bottaro allows nothing to go too far. Her discretion graces everything from sex to terminal illness. She possesses a remarkable ability to give us just enough information and/or visuals; this, coupled to the European sensibility not to pry, allows certain moments to skirt sentimentality but quickly settle back into sense and strength.|
Flashdance days -- and I will look forward with great anticipation to seeing M. Renaud (shown below) again soon.
Jean-Claude Larrieu, and the lovely, never-intrusive musical score by Nicola Piovani.
Zeitgeist Films, opens this Friday, April 1, in New York City (Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center) and in Los Angeles area (at various sites), with a nationwide roll-out to follow. Click here for all playdates -- cities, dates and theaters -- across the country.