Wednesday, 8 January 2014


Directed by Andrew Bujalski


Such a genuinely odd film. It shouldn’t have worked. More than that, the idea of creating such a film shouldn’t even have entered anyone’s mind, however freakish or subversive that mind could be. But against all odds (pun intended), the thing does work. Computer Chess is that special and rare movie experience that manages to be both boring and engrossing.

It’s a black and white film, which is perhaps the least unconventional thing about it. It’s a faux-documentary with a strong emphasis on ‘faux’. Set in the early 80’s and looking as if it was also shot in the early 80’s, it quickly dispenses with a casual viewer by stuffing his face with a solemn and ridiculously unexciting (verging on ‘what the hell’) conference on the prospect of machines beating humans at the game of chess. As it transpires, it’s all a prelude to a peculiar tournament where men are set to compete with ingenious chess software. The tournament is taking place at a hotel and attracts various chess geeks, nerds and weirdos who at times engage in mumbling conversations that will make you splutter with incredulity.

The juxtaposition emerges through the fact that the hotel happens to host another event (generally speaking) at the very same time: an eccentric therapy course aimed at free love, liberated feelings and, well, you should just see the participants. 

It would be hard to imagine, but the incredible boldness pays off. Computer Chess is done with such matter-of-fact conviction and self-belief, the vibe is so engaging and the oddness is so genuine that you feel strangely intrigued by what you see. It feels real and quite absurd. In fact, you might even be moved by the final scenes where the two worlds collide and love conquers all (so to speak). Then, as an afterthought, there’s a lovely non-sequitur that is like a very lo-fi equivalent of the final scene of Inland Empire. You see a woman soulfully performing a beautiful folk song. Credits roll. A fitting end. 

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