Bookmark (0)

No account yet? Register

Queen To Play (Joueuse) is the first feature from filmmaker Caroline Bottaro, which stars Kevin Kline and the incandescent Sandrine Bonnaire.

The film is set in Corsica, and opens as a maid in a small hotel Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) is cleaning up the elegant but messy room of an American Couple, who sits playing chess, still woozy and lounging from the night before; the woman (a radiant Jennifer Beals) sitting in her night gown, lovingly caressing her lover’s ( Dominic Gould) face as they sensually yet skillfully play.

Helene is struck dumb by this loving image, especially of the luminescent and in-love woman. “Do you play?” asks the young woman, and Helene shakes her head. It is the image that sticks though, that lurks through the next few days, even as her co-worker speaks dramatically of wanting to get off of “this island,” and she realizes that her marriage and family life are fine, but just, perhaps, not quite.

Bonnaire plays Helene as a woman relatively content with her circumstances, who finds cleaning a decent profession, and is not ashamed of it, even as her daughter hides the fact that her mother is a housekeeper from her middle-class boyfriend. As attempts to revitalize her marriage to her handsome, working-class husband ( Francis Renaud) fail, she notices the chess board in the home of one of her private clients Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline) a retired American doctor, who has locked himself in his home in Corsica, preferring to be alone with his books, still mourning the death of his beloved wife. Dr. Kroger spies Helene one day, as she had accidentally dozed off with the chessboard and pieces on her lap. Recognizing a mutual fascination with the game, he agrees to school her in the rigors of the game, and soon her housekeeping hours turn into timed chess-playing matches. We witness Hélène’s intellect and strength growing more magnificent with each passing week, and at the same time, she also very slowly begins to airily drift, just slightly, from her family.

Sandrine Bonnaire is simply put, a quietly deft powerhouse of an actress, which is certainly why she is an institution of the French cinema. As she begins to identify with the “Queen” on the chessboard, it is as if her destiny is revealed like one gently pulling away a sheet from a perfectly made bed. And Bottaro lets Kevin Kline emote in a gentle way that is very different from the gravitas he has often relied upon. He, too, allows us to see the possibilities that he sees in Helene. She awakens in him not erotic passion, necessarily, but he desire to live again, amongst people in the world. She allows him to feel again.

The film was adapted from the novel The Chess Player, by Bertina Henrichs, and the film is very “novelistic,” in its quiet reach and scope. Bottaro, though, has laughingly said that some viewers likened the tension in the final, pivotal scene of Helene in a genuine chess tournament to an “action film.” The gorgeous score ( by Nicola Piovani) actually blends nicely with the moods in all of the scenes to build a terrific, underlying emotional tension, and helps to revel in the final, exhilarating resolution.

Bottaro, Kline, Bonnaire and the cast of Queen to Play have created a sweet, quiet poem about what it means to create one’s own life, and about how the chance to do  it never truly comes too late, if one dares to risk. Who could ask for anything more?

Share ...

Subscribe for Blog Updates

Sign up for our latest updates.

Please follow us to get updates online.