Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sahs Briljantu Karaliene (Chess for a Diamond Queen)

Thriller. 1973.
Directed by Aloiz Brencs.
Starring: Gunars Cilinskis, Uldis Dumpis and Lidija Pupure.

“Chess for a Diamond Queen” by Aloiz Brencs is a below average detective film that is utterly predictable and uniquely Soviet. It will be near to impossible for western audiences to relate to the stock and trade of the detective genre; understanding the motivation of the good guys and the bad guys. Then again, even for someone who has lived under Soviet rule the picture will seem a murky muddle.
A woman’s body is found in a communal apartment. Her face has been disfigured and no one is sure of the motive for her murder. Nothing seems to be missing. The primary suspect is one of her flatmates, a young woman who was overheard arguing with the victim the night before and fled to the countryside the very next day. The two detectives assigned to the case, Gunars Cilinskis and Lidija Pupure, arrest the young woman and she breaks down during interrogation and admits to striking, but not killing, the victim. Case closed? Hint: In a detective film, nine times out of ten, if a suspect is caught in the first 15 minutes of the film, and she happens to be a pretty young woman, she is innocent. Enter the attorney, Uldis Dumpis, who will prove this so.
The rest of the film proceeds in similarly predictable fashion. Characters are always in the right place at the right time to overhear that crucial clue. (A bad guy just happens to have an uncle living in the same building as one of the good guys and he just happens to be in the stairwell as an important bit of information is revealed). They are always a second too late or too early. (There is the literal scene of a fork in the road. One car goes left the other right, so that they can arrive at their destination minutes apart). Until the final climax, that is, when they seem to hit it right on the nose. In many respects this is true for most of the detective film genre. It all depends on the execution and the execution of “Chess” leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, it could be a simple case of just not being able to relate to the motivations of the characters. It is a very Soviet film.
How does it all turn out? By the end of the film you don’t much care. Hint: In detective films, when the face of a murder victim is disfigured or the body can’t be found, nine times out of ten, it is the person whose body you think it is. About the only positives about this film is the performance of the actors, primarily Cilinskis and Dumpis, and it does offer some insight into the emotional totems of the Soviet Union, unfortunately, for most viewers this will probably not be enough.

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