& Chess: The Luzhin Defense
Luzhin, the main character in The Luzhin Defense, one of Vladmir
Nabokov’s lesser novels, is an idiosyncratic Russian chess grand
master, here played with stunning intensity by the great actor
John Turturro. Cne of those highly strung, gifted individuals,
Luzhin lives entirely in the world of chess. At one point, in
the movie, he yells at his mentor, Valentinov (Stuart Wilson),
“What city is this?” For educators, the movie might provoke discussions
of genius as well as Nabokov’s work.
It is Italy in 1929, and Luzhin is playing a tournament in Lake
Como that will determine if he is to be the world champion– if
he can remember to get to the matches at the palatial resort.
But Luzhin’s life is about to change, with the arrival of Natalia
(the charming Emily Watson) who comes to the resort, not to watch
chess, but to meet a count (Christopher Thompson) that her parents,
(Geraldine James and Peter Blythe), have fixed her up with. In
a wink, she instead falls in love with the demented chess genius
and announces to her parents’ dismay that she will marry him.
But arriving also is his old mentor in the company of his rival,
the Italian grand master Turati (Fabio Sartor), bringing hatred
and envy to pummel the defenseless Luzhin.
From time-to-time, we see flashbacks of Luzhin’s earlier life:
lessons in chess from his aunt and father’s mistress; the suicide
of his neurotic mother and dumping by his stern mentor. The film,
beautifully directed by Marleen Gorris (Antonio’s Line) has, with
the exception of Turturro’s madness, the surreal feel of a lost
The movie is more than a love story. There are heated chess games,
too, as Luzhin runs the risk of dying under their stress or giving
up the game and his reason for living. Its ending is hardly happy,
and yet, it is optimistic and uplifting, and surprising.
(106 minutes; Sony Pictures Classics Release; PG-13; call 777-FILM
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