the luzhin defense(2000)
director: marleen gorris
john turturro, emily watson

. Marleen Gorris’ films -- Antonia’s Line, Mrs. Dalloway -- usually feature strong women and damaged men, and her latest film is no different. 

John Turturro is a genius chess-master so absent-minded that he doesn’t know what city he’s in most of the time. Emily Watson is a headstrong young woman trying to resist her mother’s craven attempts to make a good marriage for her. Inevitably and improbably, she becomes attracted to Turturro’s socially inept genius at a resort in northern Italy where he’s come for a chess match.

Based on a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the film flashes back to Turturro’s unhappy childhood while the plot moves forward to the grim choice he has to make: he can never be happy with Watson unless he gives up the game that is eating him alive. All the while his former mentor, a villain from Turturro’s past, hovers menacingly.

Basically a melodrama deprived of the usual overblown angst, the acting and the lovely scenery -- set in that timeless any-Europe of ancient towns with winding streets and vast four-star hotels -- make this competent, surprisingly conventional film more than watchable.