Netflix’s “The “Queen’s Gambit” (2020) is garnering all kinds of great press, and even though AHFW hasn’t moved quickly enough to see the new series, our Movie of the Week certainly is related.
“Queen to Play” (2009) – While enjoying creature comforts and resting on our laurels have their benefits, it’s also important – in the game of life – to step outside one’s comfort zone every once in a while. In writer/director Caroline Bottaro’s charming French import, she tells the story of late-30/early-40-something housekeeper, Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire), who tries to break from her daily routines to pursue a passion.
As we quickly learn about Helene, her life may not be full of passion, but she’s getting by okay. She and her husband, Ange (Francis Renaud), don’t show much spark but seem content and take their marital vows seriously. Helene and Ange aren’t wealthy, but they have a roof over their (and their teenage daughter’s) heads in Corsica, a beautiful island off the coast of France.
For Helene, however, something is missing. She believes that she has more to offer the world than ensuring room numbers 4 and 9 have clean sheets and extra towels. One early morning, she watches a couple play chess – like a loving act of foreplay – and decides it might be an emotional jolt in her life.
Chess? Sure, why not, but when Ange doesn’t respond in the way she hoped, Helene turns to an eccentric widower, Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline), and they play chess every Tuesday.
Bottaro provides a scenic, but limited environment for Helene and captures her lead’s willingness to break her invisible chains. The film explores Helene’s duality, and it’s ever-so-present while she rides her bike on the winding roads of the island. She dons a matronly red sweater, but the wind breathes and whips around her hair and face like she knows a potential personal glory awaits.
What awaits are her chess lessons with Dr. Kroger. It’s a somewhat-transactional but caring friendship, and Kroger and Helene offer subtle cues of something brewing beneath the surface. At a minimum, they have a deep, mutual respect that finds its way on screen with a glance, a smile or a thoughtful look.
Kroger asks, “Why is this so important for you?” and Helene responds, “I don’t know.”
Perhaps passion can’t be easily explained.
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Zeitgeist Films