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MOVIE REVIEW: Queen to Play (France: Joueuse)

Kevin Kline dazzles yet again

  • Kevin Kline as Krger and Sandrine Bonnaire as Hlne in "Queen to Play."
  • Sandrine Bonnaire as Hlne in "Queen to Play."
  • Sandrine Bonnaire as Hlne in "Queen to Play."
  • Sandrine Bonnaire as Hlne in "Queen to Play."
  • Sandrine Bonnaire as Hlne in "Queen to Play."
  • Kevin Kline as Krger in "Queen to Play."
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When Kevin Kline’s name is attached to a movie, I’m excited to see it. Imagine my surprise when I saw that he was speaking French in Queen to Play, and that his performance wasn’t the best one in the movie. That would belong to Sandrine Bonnaire, who plays a maid that’s unhappy in her marriage. She becomes fascinated by the game of chess after watching an affectionate couple play in a hotel room she’s cleaning. She had such wonderful facial expressions, and just the arch of an eyebrow or squint of an eye said so much.

I looked up everything I could about this French actress I knew nothing about. She was born in 1967, the 7th of 11 kids, had a baby with William Hurt in 1991, and did a number of French films I’ve never seen but am looking forward to tracking down.

Kline plays a doctor who has hired the maid, and soon starts teaching her how to play chess. I liked his flirtatious nature with Bonnaire in this, and that Bonnaire wasn’t receptive to it. Bonnaire becomes fascinated with chess and in some cases, even more frustrated by her husband. That could be his lack of interest in the game, or him being angry at her for coming home late (even though he didn’t think twice about going out with the guys).

First-time director Caroline Bottaro had a few missteps. One of those was a big chess match with a chauvinist pig; from the time Bonnaire signed up to play, to the conclusion, bothered me. Not just the cliché nature of the things that were happening (underdog against the highly ranked player, family that stood by cheering, husband that couldn’t bare to watch), but a goofy scene with Kline sitting at home willing her to win by moving pieces on a board, some sort of telepathy thing that made no sense. Also, when Bonnaire gives her husband an electric chess set, I wondered why at this birthday party, nobody else gave him a gift. And if nobody else brought a gift, why would she give him that present in front of them? All so we can see the disappointment in his face when he opens it; the scene could’ve worked nicely with a more realistic approach.

I loved how Bonnaire started thinking about chess 24/7 – whether that’s different moves, or looking at checkered tiles of a home she’s cleaning and daydreaming.

Also liked the fact that she never really fell for Kline. The fact that he had a reputation and was gruff to her in the beginning, meant that no matter how great he was at chess or wonderful for taking the time to teach her, she wouldn’t have had those feelings for him. It was smart not to go there.

This is a nice love letter to the game of chess. I’m giving it a B-.