Tuesday, February 7, 2017

1984 Winner, Dangerous Moves

Dangerous Moves

Director:  Richard Dembo

Distributed by:  Gaumont

Released:  April 1984

Country:  Switzerland

I’ve never had the patience to be a really good, or even halfway decent, chess player.  Now I come to find out I really don’t have the patience to watch a movie about chess players.  But I’ve committed to doing my best to watch every Best Foreign Film ever awarded by the Academy, and Dangerous Moves, Switzerland’s 1984 BFF film, wasn’t going to watch itself.  So I sucked down a pot of coffee and popped the DVD in and . . . watched at least a quarter of the film before committing to doing the same the next day.  Turns out, this is the most appropriate way to watch this film, and the most pragmatic.  More on that later.

Jan-Michael Vincent wanna be Pavius
Jan-Michael Vincent
The basic plot line is that a sage old chess champion from the Soviet Union, Akiva Liebskind, is taking on his former protégé, the Soviet defector Pavius Fromm, at the final pairing of the World Chess Championship in Geneva.  Avika is past his prime and has a serious heart condition.  The doctors warn him he should not be playing chess with such a condition.  Usually when you have a heart condition, the doctors tell you to stick to doing things like playing chess, so you know this guy’s ticker must be in pretty bad shape.  Meanwhile, Pavius is sort of a Jan-Michael Vincent wannabe, the young upstart who doesn’t respect the game or his elders.  Or the Communists, obviously.  The Soviet government finds it of utmost importance that this punk ex-Russian get beat by the old man.  Pavius in turn wants to stick it to his mentor, but his head isn’t in the game.  For those of you who may not know him, Jan-Michael Vincent was a heartthrob actor from the 1970's and '80's, who may be best known from the 1972 thriller The Mechanic, in which Charles Bronson is a hitman training his young protege, Vincent, to be the sameDangerous Moves has sort of the same premise . . . but with chess instead of anything interesting.

The chess championship is a best of seven, like the NBA finals or the World Series, right?  You would think that going into Match 1, these guys would come out concentrating on the fundamentals, like don’t get your king taken, or try not to lose too many guys, that sort of thing.  But these rough-and-tumble competitors are above all that, especially Pavius.  His ploy is to show up late to rattle his opponent, which it most certainly does.  And why wouldn’t it?  The first rule of chess is to show up on time, or your opponent might get mad.  Classic sports one-upsmanship.
Avika, The old Russian Master
Since chess matches are so demanding physically and mentally, the players take time off in between games, even if the game lasts only a few minutes.  This is where watching this film in installments pays off.  You can only take so many dangerous moves in one sitting, so it’s best to break it up a little.  In between games, we see our opponents’ relationships with their ladies, played by noted actresses Leslie Caron and Liv Ulmann, but they add little to the story.
They paid top dollar to watch this

I am careful to not give away any plot points, like who wins what games, or which player shockingly uses the Sicilian Defense and which one goes the more traditional King’s Gambit route.  But there’s little chance of me giving away the ending, because I very well may have been asleep for it.
I'm more of a checkers guy, myself
The Title:  The French title is La diagonale du fou, or "The Fool’s Diagonal."  I guess they changed it to Dangerous Moves in order to trick Americans into thinking it was an interesting movie.

The Culture:  The Cold War, which lasted from 1945 to 1990, included a number of events that had the world on the edge of their collective seat:  The Vietnam and Korean Wars, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin airlift, all fraught with danger.  A chess match, I would say, does nothing to reflect that time.

Agenda danger:  Heck, I would have liked a little communist or capitalist propaganda to liven things up.

Best Picture that year:  Amadeus.  The story of Mozart.  Movie-goers must have been really patient that year.

Rating:  What would really interest me is a movie about a Checkers champ and his protégé.  Maybe even Parcheesi would be more exciting.  But during the Cold War, of course.

No comments:

Post a Comment