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The Luzhin Defence

The Luzhin Defence, based on an early Nabokov novel, is part gentle romance, part chess thriller, and who'd have thought that mix of genres could exist!

Good acting from John Turturro as the eccentric, vulnerable chess player Alexander Luzhin and the always adorable Emily Watson as the object of his affection, Natalia.

About a third of the way in Luzhin makes a rather remarkable proposition. Turturro's characterisation sets this up but the groundwork for Watson's response wasn't really prepared, though it was retroactively justified. The flaw isn't fatal though as you can take that incident in stride and take it from there.

Turturro is good but the recurring flashbacks to Luzhin's childhood - which are critical to the story - don't work too well, mainly because the boy playing the young Alexander is nowhere near as strong as his grown-up counterpart. Mark Tandy, playing Luzhin's father, also doesn't have the same presence as the cast around Turturro, though Kelly Hunter as his mother is effective in a mostly silent part.

The lovers face trials and tribulations from three trajectories - Natalia's parents objection to their romance, an unscrupulous former mentor of Luzhin's and Luzhin's own demons and social ineptness. These intersect nicely in the climax.

I liked the ending. You think the story is over but there's a final sequence which might seem cliched in retrospect but in the moment is ingenious and moving.

The DVD transfer was panned and scanned which I normally hate. That said, I didn't really notice, there weren't any elements in the composition which seemed cut off.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 9, 2005 1:38 AM.

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