“Queen to Play” (La Joueuse)

(A new way to “mate”)


Directed by Caroline Bottaro, 2009

Starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Kevin Kline

I saw a French movie last night called “Queen to Play” (La Joueuse aux Echecs) about a middle-aged woman who works as a house cleaner. She is married and has a teenage daughter. Her love life is lacking: a distracted, working class husband supports her but is more interested in the traditional family status quo (the wife makes the meals and is there for her husband when he wants to make love; also there waiting when he doesn’t feel like it) than in encouraging her in her own personal growth. She sees a sultry young American woman playing chess with one of her house-cleaning clients, and winning. There is something alive and seductive about the game itself and the power it accords women (the queen is the most powerful game piece), and she resolves to learn to pay chess. Chess is, of course, a metaphor for her self-actualization and fulfillment. By persuading a reclusive doctor client of hers to teach her the game, she progresses in her skill. She is driven. She wants to learn not only the rules of engagement, but also how to win. In the end, despite the town’s rumor mill and her own husband’s jealous suspicions, she has her way. She not only gains a thorough mastery of the game, but also sparks an evanescent romance with her mentor, which culminates in a single meaningful kiss and nothing more. Here she has reached a turning point. She has ventured very far toward the horizon of her dreams, but to continue her chess-playing visits would destroy her family; besides, an extra-marital romance was never her intention. The kiss was rather a side effect of the self-realization she has attained. Then she makes love with her husband, and resolves never to see her former client/mentor, and to give up chess. Finally, her daughter and her mentor’s remembered words convince her to pursue her dream. She enters a chess tournament in Paris and wins.

That film, like other well-conceived and executed literary works, has inspired me in my creative endeavor. Not only the plot of the story, but also a vibrant, tangible memory of the feelings and mood associated with the character’s development, have stayed with me.

Good writing, when it comes directly from the source (the impulse), and is played through with sincerity, has meaning and staying power.