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The Luzhin Defence Review

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Turturro is the innocent and eccentric Alexander Luzhin, child prodigy-turned-chess Grand Master who arrives at a resort in the Italian Lakes to compete in a tournament. Scarred by a dysfunctional childhood, Luzhin shuffles through the exclusive hotel in a world of his own. That is, until he spies Natalia (Watson) who brings him out of his shell.

★★★★

For the uninitiated, chess isn't the most exciting of games, so the idea of a movie which is based around a tournament of said pastime sounds about as interesting as watching milk go sour. Thankfully, because it's adapted from the Vladimir Nabakov (author of Lolita) novel, this is more about love and obsession than the strategic positioning of pawns and rooks.

John Turturro excels as the innocent and eccentric Alexander Luzhin, a child prodigy-turned-chess Grand Master who arrives at a resort in the Italian Lakes to compete in a tournament. Scarred by a childhood in which his parents' loveless marriage failed and where he was exploited by his former teacher-turned-manager, Valentinov (Wilson), Luzhin shuffles through the exclusive hotel in a world of his own. That is, until he spies Natalia (Watson), whose mother (James) is desperately trying to marry her off, but isn't impressed with the erratic genius who proposes to her daughter only hours after their first meeting.

Because Nabakov never wanted to skip gaily through dandelion fields towards a happy ending, there's a pervading sense of doom which hangs over the couple as Natalia slowly brings Alexander out of his quirky little shell. Both Turturro and Watson inject their characters with a real warmth, so although Wilson gives rather too villainous turn - you expect him to start twirling a long moustache - you'll find yourself crossing your fingers, willing it all to work out.

Director Gorris handles such a subtly emotional, gripping and even occasionally comic tale with a deft hand. And while this period drama won't bring forth a new craze for chess playing, it might just convince a few people that the game isn't quite as boring as it looks.

Director Gorris handles such a subtly emotional, gripping and even occasionally comic tale with a deft hand. And while this period drama won't bring forth a new craze for chess playing, it might just convince a few people that the game isn't quite as boring as it looks.