An alluring hotel couple vacationing on the isle of Corse (Corsica), playing chess on their balcony, catches the eye of a maid. Jennifer Beals is the female guest who looks happy, rich, and in love; she plays the coquette more than she plays chess. Helene the chambermaid (Sandrine Bonnaire) makes mental notes of every detail in the unfolding scene: from Beals’ mop of upswept hair and falling tendrils to the golden gown that she leaves behind in the bed…and an open game of chess.
Helene is pale, plain, tall and thin with fine blond hair that she wears in a simple bun. But her encounter with this glamorous guest runs deep and changes everything. The next day she begins to teach herself chess and quickly decides she needs to reboot the marriage as well as her life to better fit her fantasy of the couple on the balcony. The setting of this totally entertaining French film on the isle of Corse with its white craggy heights surrounded by water–is a lush location that suggests a woman will reach great heights, despite lack of confidence.
Kevin Kline, Dr. Kroger, Helene’s mentor and friend, is not my first pick as French foil but his French is passable even crisp. He’s an aging physician who has just lost his wife and is losing interest in living when his part-time house keeper Helene strikes up an unlikely friendship by asking him to play chess with her. In this film, it’s an eye-catching chance encounter that opens a door for Helene, her family, and friends that she happily walks through. Bonnaire is going places and taking her audience with her. Don’t miss this beautiful French film and Sandrine’s wonderful performance.
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