Anyone up for a game of Wizard’s Chess?

Theatrical Release Date: 04/29/2011
Director: Caroline Bottaro
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Francis Renaud, Alexandra Gentil, Alice Pol, Jennifer Beals, Dominic Gould
Rated: Not Rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes


It’s rude to spy on people playing chess together.

E7. G4. B8. No, I’m not trying to sink your battleship, those are also coordinates on a chess board and thereby a part of the new film from writer/director Caroline Bottaro, “Queen to Play”.

Set in Corsica, the movie centers on Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire), who works as a hotel maid and picks up a little extra cash cleaning the house of Doctor Kröger (Kevin Kline), an American expatriate. She’s feeling like there’s something missing in her life as the romance in her marriage has started to fade and her life has become one of routine rather than passion.

This all changes when she sees an American couple (Jennifer Beals & Dominic Gould) playing chess together on their hotel balcony. Viewing this act through the room’s sheer drapes, Hélène is fascinated by the notion of this strong, intelligent woman who’s also the epitome of femininity. She starts to learn the game via an electronic chess set but upon finding the real thing in Doctor Kröger’s home, she asks him for lessons in order to further her ability.

What follows is your standard metaphor of mastering a skill in order to master one’s own life, complete with the tension of a possible affair (this is a French film after all). Each of the actors, Bonnaire especially, deliver good performances and Bottaro’s script does a decent job of balancing Hélène’s struggle to reconnect with her husband and daughter with the separate subplot of her burgeoning chess skills (yes, the film claims she’s somewhat of a prodigy and I felt like watching “Searching for Bobby Fischer” afterwards … not sure if that helps or hurts this story).

One of the keys marketing the film in the states is playing up the significance of Kline playing the part primarily in a foreign language. The character is an American living in Corsica so I’m sure anyone fluent in French will be able to forgive whatever mistakes were made in his inflection or accent. And even if it’s not quite as believable as Kristin Scott Thomas in any one of her numerous productions from France, he seems quite at ease in the role.

What interested me far more upon leaving the theater, however, was contemplating the film as metaphor or dream. Although I do not believe it was intended to be interpreted this way, if one were to see Beals’ character as a figment of Bonnaire’s imagination, the consequences of it lead to an interesting discussion. Still, while I might enjoy the idea of her suffering some sort of psychosis, I doubt those who are looking for a love story are after the same thing – so take from the film what you will.

You don’t need to be a chess player, or even understand the game, as Bottaro develops Hélène’s skills gradually so the audience can follow along. And while the chess playing seemed a bit gimmicky at times, and there are more sports clichés than you can shake a stick at, the actors make the experience enjoyable. If you’re a fan of Bonnaire or just want to see Kline speak French, then “Queen to Play” is probably a good fit and it gets a 3 out of 5.

3 out of 5