LocationThe Texas Theatre 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. Dallas, TX 75208
DatesOpens Aug 30
Mumblecore standby Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Beeswax) has perhaps made his best film to date with Computer Chess. The movie is a period piece that takes place in those early, nascent days of the personal computer revolution, at a convention in a nondescript hotel where a small cabal of university-sponsored nerds are testing out their chess programs. Opening during a panel discussion that pits a few of the programmers against each other in this highly competitive and ego-filled – if minuscule and microcosmic – world, the entire film is shot on period-era video. That makes part of the fun of the opening minutes the confusion over whether Bujalski has roped archive footage into his fiction. It’s also a testament to the filmmaker’s knack for constructing candid scenes, which help thrust us into this staid world of mumbling, lingo-spouting programmers.
What’s remarkable about Computer Chess is that despite its desert-dry, deadpan satirical style, the movie is both captivating and often hilarious. After establishing a vérité-style panorama of the conference, the film begins to focus in on a few key characters. There’s the rogue, eccentric programmer who sleeps under tables in the conference room, the teacher mentor who is trying to keep perspective, and the dedicated student whose falls for a girl from another team, in part, because of the quality of her programming. Throughout what works is that Bujalski manages to create full-fleshed characters with his seemingly off-handed style, whose emotions are honest and candid, and whose small-stakes jockeying for dominance in their field smacks of a more universal sense of desire and ambition, or perhaps more accurately, hope and loss.