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The Luzhin Defence (2000)

PG-13  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  8 September 2000 (UK)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 3,713 users   Metascore: 64/100
Reviews: 60 user | 46 critic | 26 from

Two worlds collide when an eccentric genius falls in love with a strong-willed society beauty.



(novel), (screenplay)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Aleksandr Ivanovich 'Sascha' Luzhin
Natalia Katkov
Vera, Natalia's Mother
Leo Valentinov
Christopher Thompson ...
Jean de Stassard
Dottore Salvatore Turati
Peter Blythe ...
Aunt Anna
Luzhin's Father
Luzhin's Mother
Alexander Hunting ...
Young Aleksandr Luzhin
Alfredo Pea ...
1st Official
Fabio Pasquini ...
2nd Official
Luigi Petrucci ...
Carlo Greco ...
Hotel Manager


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 Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

chess | genius | obsession | lake | 1920s | See All (35) »


His love dictates every move.


Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and thematic elements | See all certifications »






Release Date:

8 September 2000 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

The Luzhin Defense  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$63,203 (USA) (20 April 2001)


$1,051,811 (USA) (24 August 2001)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


A camera operator's reflection is in the window just after Luzhin walks past a piano (about 30 minutes in). See more »


Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhin: As Pushkin's doomed duelist said, "Let's start if you're willing."
See more »


Waltz 2
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 »

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User Reviews

An outstanding movie
11 September 2000 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

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.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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