Computer Chess one of the most ingenious movies of the year
Starring Patrick Riester and Robin Schwartz. Unrated. Opens Friday, September 6, at the Vancity Theatre
Daring things are done with no money and much imagination in Computer Chess, which sees the writer-director Andrew Bujalski—known for such mumblecore items as Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha—jump forward by several squares.
Shot on a primitive Portapak video camera predating the tale’s 1984 setting, replete with fuzzy shades of grey and an almost-square aspect, Computer Chess unfolds during a weekend conference at a low-grade hotel in an unnamed city. A gaggle of porn mustaches and aviator glasses gathers to test their chess programs against those of other geeks.
The quietly whimsical effort was actually shot in Austin, Texas, with Richard Linklater regular Wiley Wiggins another nod to its Slacker roots. Perhaps its best-known face—at festivals, anyway—is film critic Gerald Peary; based on his turn as a laconic grandmaster (chess, not kung fu) emceeing the proceedings, he could deadpan his way through parts that Ben Stein turns down.
The sort-of protagonist is Peter (Patrick Riester), a gawky college student having authority issues with his grad professor (Gordon Kindlmann) and blowing his chances with the event’s sole female player (Robin Schwartz). The hotel’s dowdy conference room is overtaken at night by a primal-scream-therapy group, leading to additional confusion for Peter—no one’s candidate for Saturday swinger.
Other figures include an obnoxious freeloader (Myles Paige) allergic to cats—that freely roam the place—and an Englishman (James Curry) who claims that “a man who’s had three Scotches can program his way out of just about any problem in the world” while suavely brushing his comb-over. Few problems are solved, but a number of existential concerns are addressed in passive-aggressive nerdversations and through the manipulation of imagery, managing often to be both funny and mysterious.
The final kicker, with hints of an unknown future past, is a fitting end move to one of the most ingenious movies of the year.