While the most surprising aspect of Queen to Play (Joueuse) for many viewers will be the realisation that, yes, that really is Kevin Kline up on the screen starring in a gentle French ‘dramedy’, there is nothing inherently wrong with meeting expectations, and director Caroline Bottaro’s first feature certainly does so. A languid, quiet and ultimately charming film about the rediscovery of passion, it features an engaging lead performance by Sandrine Bonnaire.
While cleaning a room at the Corsican resort at which she is a maid, Hélène observes a pair of wealthy lovers in the throes of a fairly sensual game of chess. Captivated by the possibilities the game offers and bored by the lifestyle of subsistence that she shares with her husband Ange (Francis Renaud) and daughter Lisa (Alexandra Gentil), Hélène strikes up a friendship with the reclusive American widower Dr. Kröger (Kline).
There won’t be many surprises throughout Queen to Play, with the plot a fairly predictable one and the characters evoking archetypes long established. The amiable tone and comfortable pacing ensure the lead actors are afforded every opportunity to capture one’s attention, however, and Bonnaire in particular benefits from this generosity: while it takes some time for Hélène to declare herself, it will take determined resistance for the audience to fail to engage in her story.
Although her obvious natural elegance somewhat limits her ability to play a character who presumably would spend most of her day getting sweaty and dirty with a mop or broom, Bonnaire brings just the right touch to the moments of Hélène’s greatest uncertainty and turmoil. The rare moments when Hélène is able to express her joy in her newfound passion show the star in a new light – Bonnaire’s face lights up with a smile that is all the more powerful for its scarcity.
Kline is adequate in a role that asks him to assume the mantle both of object of desire as well as grumpy old man, and for this reason Dr Kröger isn’t quite as easy to come to terms with as his counterpart. Kline has long possessed a certain cheeky allure, however, and the moments in which he is allowed to share his wit are perhaps the most effective of his turn.
While Queen to Play certainly isn’t the most challenging of the films on offer at the French Film Festival, one could do worse than to enjoy its quiet grace.Rating: