Sometimes, I find myself rewatching a film many years later and enjoying it even more the second time. Joueuse (shjoo-uhz), means “player,” but specifically a female player; it was originally released in 2009 and I think I must have seen it shortly therafter. I really prefer the English title, Queen to Play, as it is much more evocative of the story line.
The movie is set in Corsica, and the scenery is simply gorgeous. It’s the story of Hélène, a hotel chambermaid who also cleans house for an American ex-pat. After watching some guests at the hotel play a game of chess that was charged with sensuality, she bought a computer chess game for her husband’s birthday, apparently hoping to strike the same sparks. When the gift falls terribly flat, Hélène tries to teach herself.
When she finds that she can only get so far on her own, she trades housekeeping services for chess lessons with her reluctant, grumpy American client. Hélène is very gifted and makes such great progress that her teacher urges her to enter a local competition. The title comes from the fact that the Queen is the most powerful piece in chess, which stands in opposition to Hélène’s relative powerlessness. The film deals with social class, relationships, pursuing dreams, and the role of women.
Sandrine Bonnaire plays Hélène, but I must confess she’s not an actress I am familiar with. Her American ex-pat client, however is the much more famous Kevin Kline. He must have an affinity for France, as he played a Frenchman in French Kiss with Meg Ryan (1995), in which he speaks English with a heavy French accent. In this film, the situation is reversed; Kline speaks decent French, but with an American accent.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a woman-power moment that I hope you will enjoy. I found Joueuse on Amazon Prime.