August 29, 2011
Checkmate. The Queen's a winner.
Right up front, Queen to Play, (Joueuse), is a French subtitled film written and directed by women about a maid.
The income-challenged household of housecleaner-housewife Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire) is being torn apart by an unconventional intrusion - chess.
And by the by, Hélène is not a Hollywood beauty and she doesn't start smiling until way into the film. But if you are still with me, you are in for a treat.
The film tracks the odyssey of a woman who cleans up after everyone in her lifeless life, including the crotchety Dr. Kröger (Francophile Kevin Kline).
Through her serendipitous attraction to the mind game and the surreptitious solace she finds in playing the queen in this men-only sport, she unwittingly affects every important person in her life.
With the cameo appearance of Jennifer Beals, the movie has a sexy seductive undercurrent, but the real appeal is its muffled suspense of waiting for the next move in this enchanting chess-board journey.
For a restorative ride, buy a ticket and take the trip.
(Editor's note: This 2009 film just finished playing the art house circuit and Netflix began streaming it in HD last week. The French title, Joueuse, translates as a female player. [Joueuse d'échec is a chess player.])
(For the film buffs who still subscribe to Netflix's DVD mail plan and who want to see a teenaged Bonnaire in one of her breakout performances, add Agnès Varda's 1985 movie Vagabond to your DVD queue. Be forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart.)