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 ...
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Sergei M. Eisenstein
The Soviet chess player Anatolij meets the American chess player Freddie in Italy where a grand chess championship is held. There, their pasts and love affairs starts to affect the competition, forcing them to face their inner feelings.
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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
From afar, this is a simple film, as funny as Buster Keaton in his best day and at least half as inventive - but without the acrobatics. It is a funny vignette, about obsession and love subsumed into plan.
But there is more to it. Say you have noticed the subterranean waters that connect Franco-Russian cinema into one, and have perhaps noticed that Eisenstein accomodated fractures for the eye while Epstein for the mind; you will want to take a look at this, the most French film made by the Soviets at the time, decades before the French would actually make them.
The film is about chess. Two levels therein, as in film noir; down below the pawns, moved about according to some inscrutable whim, now and then facing extinction, and on the higher level gods pulling the strings, according plan and movement. This is generally about the game, now notice how the game becomes self-referential in-sight.
On the outer level there is a Grand Chess tournament, ostensibly real footage of national champions conniving each other over a chess board. Propped before an audience is a giant chess board, where the movements of the players are replicated for the audience to participate - everyone is looking at the screen transfixed, it's a primitive screen, cheering or keeping notes.
And the nested level inside; a story of love thwarted by a man's morbid obsession with chess. The woman confronts him about it. But it turns out, the world entire is chess. Chess as structured life, the Soviet dream. Even kids are playing it, policemen with those just arrested. The dismayed man walking out of his girlfriend's apartment, staggers onto a floor painted like a chessboard - he moves around as though pulled by strings.
The denouement takes place on the outer level, back in the tournament hall. The woman, who has newly discovered the wonders of chess, has shattered the juvenile love she clinged to for happiness; instead, she concedes to be part of the plan, the board where life is arranged into pattern and there to move and be moved. You may read what you want into this, but there is power behind the idea; love, that is to say emotional love, is not allowed final say here. Higher laws govern.
Self-reference; games of fiction; role-playing; and chess as the metaphor that weaves them together. This is what the French made a film culture of - it is certainly nothing like what we know of Pudovkin from his subsequent features. I'd like to think that people like Chris Marker, Jacques Rivette, Raoul Ruiz - who departed just a few days ago
would have adored this. I know I will.
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