Queen To Play

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


Queen To Play
Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Francis Renaud, Valerie Lagrange
Director: Caroline Bottaro

While a love of chess is central to the narrative of Queen to Play - the film revolves around a chambermaid's personal transformation through the board game - Caroline Bottaro's own object of affection here definitely lies with her star.

Take the film's final shot, in which Sandrine Bonnaire stares at the sea with her back to the camera while standing at the front of a ship, reflecting on the new vistas before her. It's a replica of one of the key images of Maurice Pialat's To Our Love, the 1983 film in which the actress, then just 16, delivered an audacious acting debut as a suburban teenager channelling her angst through sexual promiscuity.

The youthful fury is long gone but the intensity remains, with Bottaro fashioning a showcase of Bonnaire's craft and her ability to conjure frustration and longing in even the plainest of roles.

Bonnaire plays Helene, a middle-aged woman leading a very ordinary life in a town in Corsica. One day a chance glance at a couple playing chess draws her to the game and gradually reveals the talent and desire she has suppressed since moving from mainland France to marry shipyard worker Ange (Francis Renaud).

Her contentment with spending her days earning a living and caring for her rebellious daughter Lisa (Alexandra Gentil) is further challenged when she begins playing chess with Dr Kr?ger (Kevin Kline), a dour American academic whose house she cleans.

What follows is Helene's journey towards self-empowerment, as she rediscovers her own needs and finally finds one thing that she can be passionate about and call her own.

Bottaro has stuck with subtlety in her portrayal of Helene's re-awakening and, with the strength of Bonnaire's performance, Queen to Play becomes a sensitive and sensual exercise.

Beyond Helene's engagement with Lisa - whose traits could easily be seen as shaped by Bonnaire's own character from To Our Love - emotions rarely boil over, and this only adds to the film's seductive qualities, especially in the budding relationship between Helene and Kroger. The scene of the pair in a game of verbal chess, every uttering delivered like a caress, is probably one of the most frisson-fuelled depictions of the game ever.

Extras: making-of featurette, trailer.