American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I'd like to be playing a game of chess right now. I'd like to be sinking down into its cool depths and staring infinity in the face. I'd like to be competing with the player across from me in terms of implacable logic rather than motor skills and hand-eye coordination. When I play chess, I temporarily leave time.
I wonder if someone who doesn't love chess as much as I do would like "Queen to Play" as much as I did. Such a person could enjoy the transformation of a Corsican maid into strong chess player. They might read it as a story of female empowerment, of a woman asserting herself in her marriage and in her job. That would be fair enough.
But what I enjoyed was the way the film summons up the pure obsessive passion that chess stirs in some people. I never got to be very good (although I could maybe beat you) but I spent 1965 partly sidetracked by chess. I bought books. I played through classic games. I joined a chess club. I became a fan of queenside strategies because I figured most of my opponents would know a lot more about kingside. These thoughts gave me much pleasure. Then I fell back into being what I really was, a mediocre patzer, because when you get to a certain point in chess you realize what a very long way you still have to go.
"Queen to Play" stars Sandrine Bonnaire as Helene, a hotel maid who cycles to work through the pastoral beauty of Corsica, where Napoleon no doubt played chess many years ago. She is married to Ange (Francis Renaud), who works at a boat yard. One morning at work, she sees, through a filmy white curtain, two of the guests (Jennifer Beals and Dominic Gould) seated on the terrace and playing a game of chess that looks for all the world like foreplay. They seem so in love, they're on their honeymoon — or cheating.