Computer Chess (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/11/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 91 mins

Writer-director Andrew Bujalski's latest film is unlike anything else you'll see all year, a surreal, darkly funny comedy-drama that's bursting with intriguing ideas and strange moments.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by mumblecore maestro Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation), Computer Chess is shot entirely on what looks like grainy black and white video so that it initially appears to be an actual amateur-shot documentary from the 1980s. The film centres on a group of computer programmers who gather at a roadside hotel in the early 1980s to take part in a man vs machine chess tournament, with the various machines competing against each other before facing human opponent, chess expert Pat Henderson (film critic Gerald Peary).

Over the course of the tournament weekend, a number of surreal events occur: psychologist Beuscher (Wiley Wiggins) and student Bishton (Patrick Riesler) begin to suspect that their TSAR 3.0 program is deliberately losing; arrogant, maverick programmer Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige) is the victim of an admin error in accommodation and discovers the hotel is infested with cats; and Bishton has an uncomfortable encounter with a married pair from the couples therapy group that's sharing the hotel conference space, while being apparently blind to the attentions of Shelly (Robin Schwartz), the only female programmer taking part in the tournament.

The Good
The tagline for Computer Chess refers to it as “an artificially intelligent comedy,” while the poster deliberately echoes 1980s ensemble comedies like Caddyshack or, more relevantly, Revenge of the Nerds. The style of the film however, is much more formally challenging than those references might suggest – the editing is often experimental in nature (there's are hints of both David Lynch and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the general weirdness of it all) and there's no real plot per se, with even the tournament sequences not playing out quite as you'd expect from the set-up.

Initially, the film feels like it might be a mock-doc, but later the action opens up, as we witness scenes (on the same grainy black and white video format) that the documentary cameraman couldn't possibly have filmed. This in itself lends the film a surreal edge as we're never quite sure what we're watching, while various other events suggest there's a science-fiction or supernatural element to proceedings.

The Great
The performances (several of which by non-actors, such as Peary) are extremely good and the dialogue is both darkly funny and brimming with intriguing ideas and discussions – needless to say, there's a lot of heavy irony, given that they're all arguing about where computer technology might be headed. There are also a number of deeply strange moments that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

Worth seeing?
Despite its somewhat challenging format, Computer Chess is an entertaining, intelligent and enjoyably surreal comedy-drama that is well worth seeking out. Recommended.

Film Trailer

Computer Chess (15)
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Content updated: 23/10/2017 08:58

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