Friday, July 08, 2011


guest reviewer Chuck Graham, TUCSONSTAGE.COM

Watching “Queen To Play” is a lovely way to sink into the comforting darkness of the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., in the reassuring company of intelligent friends to enjoy an adult fairy tale of life’s possibilities in middle age.

While it is annoying enough that the boomer generation has forced the indulgence of its life cycle on all of us -- from the discovery of sex to the fear of dementia – there are certain unique opportunities during one’s 40s and 50s that don’t occur at any other time in life.

The children are grown, one’s own economic level is defined, daily routines are well established. As the days seem to speed up in their determination to push us toward old age even faster, a new spark of resistance is struck…one much like the teenager’s first resistance to authority.

Adding urgency is the conviction this could well be the last chance to strike out on a new, potentially life-changing, adventure. American movie makers will no doubt fill their movies for this middle-aged market with lots of screaming digital special effects thumbing their collective noses at AARP.

Queen To Play” is a French film much more gracious than that. Sandrine Bonnaire as Helene begins her story as a responsible maid at a family hotel in sunny Corsica. Her life is set. There isn’t much money, but her husband is handsome, hardworking and loyal. Her 15-year-old daughter is prickly, but she doesn’t have any tattoos. Yet.

Upon arriving at work one lovely morning, Helene is invited to clean the room of a couple out on the balcony enjoying a game of chess and very much enjoying each other. Their lives seem so magical to Helene. In one moment she realizes how the chains of routine and the obligations of necessity have combined to lock her into the cell of compromise, denied forever any opportunity to enjoy any fuller use of her personality.

The shock is palpable. When Helene later discovers the lovely woman has accidentally left her silk dressing gown behind, Helene takes it home. She also buys her husband Ange (Francis Renaud) an electronic chess set for his upcoming birthday.

Ange quickly rejects any interest in learning to play chess. In the middle of the night Helene is reading the instruction book and playing a solo game against the electronic chessboard.

Awhile later, while cleaning the home of the perpetually grumpy and retired Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline, always speaking French), Helene discovers his chess board. Drawing on all the courage she can muster, Helene asks if Dr. Kroger will teach her to play, in return for free housekeeping services.

Dr. Kroger may be living more comfortably, but his life does seem empty. Yet, he is not a philandering man. In his life, propriety is king. For Helene, chess is queen – for she is fascinated by a game where the king’s mate has the most power.

The enjoyment in “Queen To Play” is in finding so many delicate layers of possibility within the story. As the doctor teaches the student, she quickly discovers a natural aptitude for the game. The more quickly she learns, the more he admires her.

The more he admires her, the more she feels ignored by her husband Ange and unappreciated by her daughter Maria (Valerie Lagrange). Gently we are brought to see in their story how easily the daily life we make more or less by accident and coincidence becomes hardened into the life we cannot change.

It is Dr. Kroger who suggests Helene enter an upcoming chess tournament. She has become the better player, so he will become her trainer, sharpening her skills to win.

Helene’s toughest battle is at home, where husband and daughter selfishly don’t want their wife/mom to get so distracted from taking care of their own personal needs.

There is more to the plot, but this is not a plot-driven film. The enjoyment is in the portrayal of the changing relationships, and the layers of implication in each change. Nicely enough, “Queen To Play” is slowly paced with plenty of time for reflection on all these changes.

In French, with subtitles.

1 comment:

Reel Inspiration said...

Chuck, thanks for allowing me to re-post this very insightful review.

A few days ago I went to the romantic comedy, "Larry Crowne." I was surprised and delighted to find the theater packed with an over twenty audience that included equal parts men and women. This gave me hope. Give them actors they relate to, and they will come!

I hope this audience finds, "Queen to Play" for a much more satisfying movie experience!

Movie blessings!