With an international chess tournament in progress, a young man becomes completely obsessed with the game. His fiancée has no interest in it, and becomes frustrated and depressed by his ... See full summary »
With an international chess tournament in progress, a young man becomes completely obsessed with the game. His fiancée has no interest in it, and becomes frustrated and depressed by his neglect of her, but wherever she goes she finds that she cannot escape chess. On the brink of giving up, she meets the world champion, Capablanca himself, with interesting results. Written by
A film from the Soviet which doesn't try to tell you how to think, AND makes you laugh.
An absolute pippin of a short, all the more surprising when you think of the dour heavy-handedness that mars Pudovkin's most famous work. Just as delightful is the subject's ambiguity - a welcome break from the wearing, mathematical propaganda that is much of Soviet cinema.
The central ambiguity of the film is: does it celebrate conformity, or is it a satire on it? In favour of the former proposition is the fact that everyone's playing chess. Like the myth that all Dublin cab-drivers are learned Joyceans, the Soviet populace as a whole seem obsessed with the rigorously intellectual game of chess. The film opens with some dispiritingly authentic chess tournaments - yep, just grandmasters sitting at tables, playing chess, and people watching. Then the comedy begins. Its conflict is that a chess nut's fiancee loathes the game, and cannot escape from it wherever she turns. Her only chance of happiness is to conform to society's pleasure.
On the other hand, this pleasure is roundly mocked, and the insanity of the chess obsession leads the film from documentary realism, into fantasy, absurdity and the supernatural. The hero is a bonkers chess addict - his cap, scarf and socks are checkered, as is his cigarette case, while he has miniature chess boards, rule books and problem setters all over his body. His straightforward journey to his fiancee is constantly interrupted by chess-related obstacles, which are quite clearly seen to have a fetishistic power over him. This power extends to society as a whole: in one particularly piquant episode, a thief about to be nabbed by a policeman is saved because a stray chessboard falls his way; the hunter and hunted stop to play. Here the mixture of chess and chance are seen to have a disruptive effect on the smooth running of society.
I suppose whatever way you read it depends on how you view the game itself. In one way it calls for extraordinary intellectual and imaginative powers, the ability to think of alternatives, which runs contrary to the rigidities of a police state. However, chess itself is a rigid game, the board a prison with minutely defined rules. The pieces, like the citizens in a police state, are at their masters' bidding, forever running around in labyrinthine patterns. The film might be quite subversive.
What it certainly is is a hilarious treat, full of great visual gags and in-jokes, as well as a disturbingly logical Alice in Wonderland-like erosion of structures, and a heroine whose unhappiness is a strange melancholic malaise. There is an irreverent sense of jeu d'esprit almost entirely absent from Soviet cinema.
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