Joueuse/Queen to Play (2009)

I haven’t played chess in ages.  I was never a great player at it plus as nerdy as I was, it never appealed to me either.  Except I can see the appeal of it for others, no judgment or anything.  Its a great game to hone logic and strategy.  Its the exact reason why I don’t play strategic RPG’s.  Its puzzling as to not only when but why I put this on my Netflix list.  I hesitated a little in even giving this a shot (since I had 5 movies expiring) but seeing as it had a decent RT score, I decided to give it a shot, and realized it was a French movie…haha!

Lets check it out, shall we?

queen to play joueuseDirector: Caroline Bottaro

Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Francis Renaud, Alice Pol

Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a chambermaid for a small hotel on the countryside somewhere in France.  As a means to help out the family, she also takes on cleaning jobs on the side.  One morning, as she goes to clean out a room, she sees on the balcony, the guests engaged in an intriguing game of chess, a game she’s unfamiliar with at all due to her low education level.  She becomes interested in it and as a gift, she gives her husband, Ange (Francis Renaud) an electronic set for his birthday.  He doesn’t know to do with it and sets it aside.  One night, she pulls it out and slowly, her obsession grows as she self-teaches with very little success and this is when she asks her boss at the house, an American expat Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline) to teach her. As her interest gains, her schedule gets stretched out of form which also puts stress on her marriage and her family and it comes down to making a choice between her family and her love of chess.

queen to play

How do I start this? Seriously, I really don’t know how.  Queen to Play is a decent 90+ minutes runtime French dramedy.  Queen to Play uses a rather calm game like chess to bring out an exciting side of life.  Helene is a middle age woman.  Her marriage lacks the spark it once had.  Her daughter is an adolescent and doesn’t spend as much time at home.  She is constantly the balance for the arguments between her husband and her daughter.  Its a lackluster life and part of it, she craves for change.  The game of chess is new to her but when she sees how a couple can sit together playing this game and feel the intensity coming off, she is intrigued by it.  Although her husband doesn’t seem to be interested in learning something new, she puts in the spare time she has to do it.  In this perseverance,  the audience sees the appealing and hardworking, and especially intelligent woman behind this simple woman on the countryside.  She meets resistance, of course, as her life transforms because of this new hobby. This leads me to say that this is the best part of this movie and its plot: the character development of Helene played by Sandrine Bonnaire.  I’ve never seen Sandrine Bonnaire before, because I lack the experience of watching French films, however she is a captivating actress.  She is able to take this simple role and transform it into something really engaging to watch.

Queen to Play

The story itself is nothing outstanding by itself without her.  For the most part, you can predict what will happen and it does fall in a certain formula except other than Sandrine’s performance, everyone else is also pretty fantastic. One of the reasons I was drawn to watch this is because of Kevin Kline.  I’ve only really seen him in one other movie, French Kiss with Meg Ryan, and I absolutely love it.  That was when he was very much younger and its a completely different sort of movie except I completely believe that he is a great actor as well.  Kevin Kline is Sandrine’s tutor, friend, boss and encouragement.  Although his character, Dr. Kroger also leads a quiet and solitary lifestyle, he brings a level of energy to the story and to Helene’s life.  He is the one who helps her see what chess is and what more she can get from it.  She lets her see her talents and to understand life a little more.  Its an inspiring relationship that they have for each other because they play off each other for most of the story.

Queen to Play

Moving along, aside from the whole chess story, Helene’s family is a side story along with her work and friends.  The runtime is short enough that we don’t really get much of her work thing sorted out too much and those characters never get much, nor do I think they really need to go too in depth, so I’m good with that.  However, her family is done well enough. I was reading some reviews saying how her family and marriage wasn’t too focused on.  I would disagree with that. Why? They gave screen time to the family as to what their lifestyle is and how their situation is as well.  They are poor and her daughter is ashamed of where they are, her husband worries that he will lose his job and there will not be enough money.  For even a little bit, I wondered if the movie would make this couple go through a divorce or something because it seemed like they didn’t seem to be in that happy place except its not that sort of movie.  However, it gives them resolution to where they are at and thats what makes it complete in this subplot.  In the end, Helene does this for herself but also to have something that her family can be proud of as well.

Queen to Play is different.  Chess can relate to life and it gives an empowerment to women at the same time, connecting the queen being the strongest piece in chess to Helene (and women in general).  It has its issues and it definitely won’t be for everyone.  It might even seem like you watched 90 minutes of nothing happening.  This is a journey of a woman who seeks change in a different way.  She finds a way to make herself worth something and finds the encouragement and the perseverance to seek it further.  The story might not be special but the performances here are absolutely fantastic.  Sandrine Bonnaire is an actress I will definitely start seeking out more movies with her in it.  Kevin Kline is inspirational to watch and even the husband played by Francis Renaud (who doesn’t seem to have done much) is great.

Have you seen Queen to Play? Are you familiar with French films? Are you an avid chess player?

Valentine’s Marathon:Beginners (2010)

I think I had bought this movie based a review I read some time early last year and being intrigued by Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.  I had no idea of what the plot was, and didn’t even watch the trailer, so after owning this for multiple months, my random draw had this in the rundown and leading me to finally see this…

BeginnersDirector: Mike Mills

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent

When Oliver’s  mother passes away 5 years ago, his father Hal tells him that he is gay and decides to come out of the closet and live and love to the fullest.  A few years later, Hal is diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  Oliver shares his last moments with his dad and understands and share more moments than any time before.  The story starts with Hal having passed away for a few months, Oliver has now sorted through everything and at a party, he unexpected meets a charming young woman called Anna (Melanie Laurent), an actress who moves around often.  They share a very strong connection and from there, start seeing each other.  As their relationship develops, it brings back his memories of his father in the last few years and also the memories of his childhood and his mother.  Anna also has a deep dark past which hinders her from truly connecting with anyone. Together, they learn that they are both beginners in the universe of love and that sometimes, it just takes courage and that sometimes you just need to be brave enough to love someone and make it work.

I’m going straight out to say that this movie is in the lines of dark and bittersweet love story.  This movie is classified as a romance/drama/comedy. Let me tell you, our comedy is with Christopher Plummer.  I’m a huge fan of Christopher Plummer. I mean, I’m a huge fan of The Sound of Music (haha).  I know I know, its not the same thing.  He was fantastic in his role as a father coming clean to his son and really diving into the whole dying gay man role.  His role really touched me and I’m sure it did to many others because he won the Oscar last year for best actor in a supporting role.

beginners oliver and hal

Its not just Christopher Plummer that was great.  Ewan McGregor also did a fantastic job being confused and lost in knowing and believing that love works out.  He did a great job at portraying happiness but just not having the courage to stay around to see things work out.  Or maybe just good at showing how Oliver is a beginner.  However, at the same time, the emotions and chemistry he had with Anna was incredibly authentic.  On to the actress who played Anna,  Melanie Laurent.  I’ve never seen her before in any other movies.  She was amazing.  That’s all I can say. She’s a charming actress and she brought  a lot of fun moments but at other times, she was convincing as to how deep her thoughts were. The praise goes not only to the these two talented actor and actress but also to the writer for making these interesting roles to play.

beginners oliver anna


If we step back and look at this whole movie, the setup of the movie is interesting and witty. Oliver is a graphic designer so a part of the movie is how his thoughts unravel as he connects events together with the people involved.  Pictures and slideshows that fill his mind as his memories come back and as his relationship moves forward.  I think the word to describe this movie would be imaginative, creative, fun and touching.

Its a different approach from what I had expected from this movie.  I had no idea what I was getting into and I did think it’d be a lot more funny than it really was. I’m not saying that as a bad thing, its just that I hadn’t thought it was a drama until it got into the deeper darker worlds of everyone learning how to love and being brave enough to hold on and see how things go.  Some part of the movie I have to admit that I can relate to which makes it just that much more dramatic.

Definitely a good movie and I’m for sure going to watch it again.  A second viewing would probably get a few more messages clearer because it does go into the deeper side of love.  However, whats refreshing is that its not simply a love story but rather a love story that is hindered but also encouraged by the main character Oliver’s past. Remember going into this movie that it is a drama above all, so its not completely light.  It’ll give you at least some levels of thinking as it aims to touch your heart. It connected with me because my past has affected the mindset of my past relationships, but even if you can’t connect to that, you will probably connect to how its never too late to love and/or learn to love.

I hadn’t even realized it had won an Oscar until I was researching the movie and the actors for this review.   Have you seen this? What did you think? What are some films you enjoyed of Christopher Plummer or Ewan McGregor?