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Movie Review: The Luzhin Defence

Story: Based on the book The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita) this film hits upon some of my favorite themes. Basically we have an obsessive chess master whose genius (or is it madness)? makes him unable to function performing the ordinary chores of daily life. He meets a woman at a World Chess Tournament in Italy, 1930, falls madly in love with her, and his very quirkiness, is what she finds appealing. The film vacillates between the present and his childhood in effective flashbacks (although flashbacks are not my favorite form of storytelling - they are much better than the dreaded narrator). These flashbacks try to explain his behavior as an adult. Directed by Marleen Gorris (Antonia's Line) this character driven film is entertaining, beautiful (starring Lake Como, Italy) and well acted. So if chess, obsession, passion, eccentricity versus the established mediocrity are interesting themes to you -- this is a film for you. There are lots of unanswered questions at film's end about art and genius. But LOBO says no one can explain these types of personalities. Just let them create!

Acting: John Turturro was just fine as Luzhin and has a Ph.D. in playing odd characters but his accent drove me nuts (more on this subject in nit picking). Emily Watson is one of my favorites and she can do no wrong.

Critters: None.

Food: For a film that takes place in Italy there was surprisingly little food -- a mistake.

Visual Art: Again, surprisingly little art for such grand locales.

Blatant Product Placement: None - it is 1930.

Soundtrack: A little heavy handed on the violins.

Opening Titles: Unremarkable.

Theater Audience: A fairly large crowd of mostly senior citizens. I think we three were the only ones who paid full price.

Quirky Meter: 2

Predictability Level: I was surprised at the ending and while I did not read the book, I did learn that the ending was changed anyway. Anyone out there read the book?

Oscar Worthy: No

Nit Picking: Oh my, here I go! My latest complaint is films that use English accents in roles where the characters are not from England. In this film, three of the major characters are supposed to be Russian, yet they all have English accents. John Turturro is also Russian and I really could not tell what kind of accent he was supposed to have. Perhaps upper class Brooklyn, who knows? I saw Enemy at the Gates a while ago (I forgot to review it) and was also annoyed with the German characters in that film. They had English accents. By the way, Ed Harris was wonderful in Enemy at the Gates and did I tell you that he and Amy Madigan and their two young kids were at the Zoo last Friday and I gave them a mini-tour? They were fascinated by the poison dart frogs. Who isn't?

Big Screen or Rental: Rental is fine. You could also rent Searching for Bobby Fischer if you are into chess. How about also renting Antonia's Line, directed by Marleen Gorris and the most fabulous Jeremy Irons version of Lolita.

Length: 110 minutes.