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(Belly)Queen to Play

July 26, 2011

Last Friday I saw the sub-titled French film “Queen to Play,” written and directed by Caroline Bottaro. The film brings Bertina Henrichs’ novel La Joueuse d’echec (The Chess Player) to the screen with beauty and grace.

See the trailer here.
Read a useful review here.
Find showtimes near you and another trailer here.

From Trailer Addict:

…hotel maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) becomes entranced by a vacationing couple (Jennifer Beals, Dominic Gould) as they play chess on the hotel balcony. Tired of her humdrum existence, she quickly cultivates her curiosity for the game into an obsession. Her working-class husband doesn’t share her fascination with the game, so she employs the help of the American expat and retired doctor (Kevin Kline) whose house she cleans a few times a week. As her passion for the game increases, her natural talent and hard work (done mostly in secret) lead her to a chance at a championship and a new shot at life.

It’s the familiar sports-story, triumph-over-adversity, women’s-empowerment theme, of course — but with pleasing twists and moving treatments. And it follows the formula most films use:

Setup: what the protagonist desires.
The protagonist’s hopes rise.
Her hopes are dashed.
Her hopes rise again.
Her hopes crash — all seems lost.
Payoff: She prevails.

The turning point usually arrives half-way through a film. This is the point at which the protagonist moves beyond being at the mercy of her circumstances: she becomes the motive force in her own life.

What’s the turning point in “Queen to Play”?

Hélène is about to give up playing chess. It’s a man’s game, after all. Her daughter, Lisa, scoffs at that idea. Lisa asks Hélène to show her the dance she’s learned from Ouidad, a Moroccan friend. The CD goes on, the music plays, and the two of them are bellydancing in the kitchen. The screen shows sinuous arms and fluid fingers, hints at undulating hips. Within a few moments, Hélène is illuminating confidence.

Chess may be a game of the mind. But it requires feeling, instinct, courage, determination. Those are the qualities Hélène claims as she is moving through her body’s center. Her body’s center — literally her turning point.

From that point on, she’s on the path to attaining her heart’s desire.

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