Computer Chess is the latest film by the king of mumblecore, Andrew Bujalski, who made a splash in the indie world with Funny Ha Ha. The latest one has been doing the festival rounds from Sundance to SXSW to my local film festival in Leeds. Eurkea Video has decided to release it on Masters of Cinema imprint, which is normally for classic or important films.
The story is set at a nameless hotel where a computer chess conference takes place. They are there to test their artificial intelligence programs against human chess masters. Meanwhile the hotel is simultaneously catering to a strange new age swingers group and they naturally cross paths.
The film takes place before the mythical year of 1984 – the year of George Orwell’s book and the film adaptation thereof – and the year of the first Apple Mac. Gilliam’s Brazil was also in the making, along with numerous Orwellian science fictions such as The Terminator. The idea of humans vs. machine, perils of technology and impending doom resonates through the film’s narrative.
Computer Chess has such a distinct aesthetic; it was shot on an ancient Sony handheld camera from the early 70s and for the first 20 minutes or so you could swear you are watching a lost video from the early 1980s. Bujalski and his cinematographer Matthias Grunsky bought many different cameras from eBay and thrift stores, before they eventually decided on a Sony AVC-3260 – this was in part due to the fact that it was one of the few that still worked.
The film starts as a fake documentary but gradually becomes stranger as it eventually bursts into quite random, mind-bending science fiction towards the end. It also asks some very interesting philosophical questions about man vs. machine and artificial intelligence. Despite not quite working all the time with some periods of boredom, it will keep you interested throughout its 90 minute running time. It’s one of the most intriguing of recent films, but not one of the best, as some critics might say.
*** 1/2 Stars
BD/DVD Release Date:
20th January 2014 (UK)
Kriss Schludermann, Tom Fletcher, Wiley Wiggins,
Buy: Computer Chess (Masters of Cinema) (DVD & BLU-RAY DUAL FORMAT)