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?
Director: 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.
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.
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.
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?