For the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival I figured I’d try and keep some kind of a review diary covering each of the 20 or so films I’m planning to see. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.
It’s always good to take a punt on something unknown at NZIFF time, and this year no film better fits that bill than Computer Chess. It’s a film I choose to see purely on word of mouth, and initially thought I was seeing a documentary. What I got was something else entirely, a surreal little picture that will almost certainly be the strangest film I’ll see all year.
Falling somewhere between the absurdity of Christopher Guest and the abstract darkness of David Lynch, Computer Chess really defies categorisation. While it starts as an offbeat, intermittently funny mockumentary about a chess tournament between rival programmers in the early days of computer programming, before long the film begins to reveal some of its more unexpected aspects.
To go into any further detail would be to spoil much of the fun, and make no mistake, Computer Chess is a very fun film. If at times it becomes a little too slow and uneventful, that only makes the moments that come sailing out of left field more effective, and while it leans heavily into some unsettling territory towards the end it never sacrifices the absurdist tone.
This is one that will possibly disappear after the festival circuit runs its course, so if you have a chance to catch it be sure that you do. It’s the very definition of a unique film that makes the festival experience worthwhile, but only if you’re willing to take a chance.