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Set in the late 1920s, The Luzhin Defence tells the story of a shambling, unworldly chess Grand Master who arrives in the Italian Lakes to play the match of his life and unexpectedly finds the love of his life. Discovering his prodigious talent in boyhood overshadowed by his parents' failing marriage, Luzhin's lyrical passion for chess has become his refuge and rendered the real world a phantom. Already matched up by her family to the very suitable Comte de Stassard, when Natalia meets Luzhin, she is drawn to the erratic genius and offers him a glimpse outside of his chess obsession. But it is a world he is not equipped to deal with and his two worlds collide to tragic effect. Written by
In his game as white against an unnamed opponent before the final, Luzhin is shown supposedly checkmating with Rd1-d8, which is an illegal move because his rook at d1 is pinned against his king on h1 by black's rook at c1. See more »
from "Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2"
Composed by Dmitri Shostakovich (as Dimitri Shostakovich)
Performed by Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest (as Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra)
Conducted by Riccardo Chailly
By permission of Boosey & Hawkes Licensing
Courtesy of Decca Record Label Ltd.
Under license from Universal Special Markets
(p) 1992 Decca Records See more »
A movie of outstanding brilliance and a poignant and unusual love story, the Luzhin Defence charts the intense attraction between an eccentric genius and a woman of beauty, depth and character.
It gives John Turturro what is probably his finest role to date (thank goodness they didn't give it to Ralph Fiennes, who would have murdered it.) Similarly, Emily Watson shows the wealth of her experience (from her outstanding background on the stage). To reach the tortured chess master (Turturro) her character has to display intelligence as well as a woman's love. Watson does not portray beauty-pageant sexuality, but she brings to her parts a self-awareness that is alluring.
In a chance meeting between Natalia (Watson) and Luzhin, she casually stops him from losing a chess piece that has fallen through a hole in his clothing
a specially crafted piece that, we realize later in the film, has come to
symbolize his hopes and aspirations. Later, as their love affair develops, she subtly likens dancing to chess (Luzhin has learnt to dance but never with a partner); she encourages him to lead her with "bold, brilliant moves" and in doing so enables him to relax sufficiently to later play at his best (and also realize himself as her lover).
This is a story of a woman who inspires a man to his greatest achievement and, in so doing finds her own deepest fulfillment, emotionally and intellectually (Or so we are led to believe - certainly, within the time frame, Natalia is something of a liberated woman rather than someone who grooms herself to be a stereotypical wife and mother).
The Italian sets are stunning. The complexity of the characters and the skill with which the dialogue unfolds them is a delight to the intelligent movie-goer, yet the film is accessible enough to make it a popular mainstream hit, and most deservedly so. Chess is merely the photogenic backdrop for developing an emotional and emotive movie, although the game is treated with enough respect to almost convince a chess-player that the characters existed. Although a tragedy of remarkable heights by a classic author, the final denouement is nevertheless surprisingly uplifting.
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