The Bujalski school of moviemaking doesn’t go in for polish – or high definition sound. Instead, there’s some instinctive leaning toward the screen to catch conversations as a group of computer programmers meet for a weekend conference in the early 1980s.
Convoked with the aim of testing chess software, the conference culminates in a knockout tournament during which teams from MIT, Caltech et al struggle with the vagaries of man versus machine, man versus man and machine versus machine. The movie takes place almost entirely in and around a motel and was shot by long-time collaborator Matthias Grunsky on a vintage 1968 tube camera in black and white.
Bujalski matches his early-tech subject matter with the use of cleverly faux-amateur cinematography effects: fuzzy focus (a lack of orientation), split screens (people with double agendas), negative images (opponents), and so on. His formally and physically closed world of bumbling encounters between moobed nerds, pothead conspiracy theorists, a plague of cats and a rival rebirthing conference is both funny and unexpectedly touching. As a microcosm reflecting Bujalski’s interest in polyvalent miscommunication, this parallel world of missed chances also reaches far into the realities of his earlier films, but playfully, ambiguously and with a new level of assurance.
Computer Chess | Directed by Andrew Bujalski (USA 2013) with Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz. Starts November 7
Originally published in issue #121, November 2013.