“Computer Chess” is an existential comedy that utilizes the dry humor of mumblecore, uses the overlapping dialogue that late director Robert Altman was known for and add a layer of bizarre images that seems ripped from the pages of David Lynch.
Set in 1982, a group of computer programmers gather at a hotel conference room for an annual chess tournament that pit computer vs. computer with the winner getting the chance to face chess master Pat Henderson (Gerald Peary),who is presiding the event. There a vast array of awkward characters that makes up the ensemble of “Computer Chess” including Peter (Patrick Reister), a shy Cal Tech representative, Shelly (Robin Schwartz), the tournament’s first female attendee and Mike Papageorge (Myles Paige), who aimlessly wonders around the hotel looking for somewhere to rest.
At first, the film starts out like a Christopher Guest mockumentary, but it ventures beyond that into Lynchian territory where stray cats and a blank-faced prostitute are among the nondescript hotel.
Despite the surrealistic nature of this film, the characters are the primary focus as the movie delves into the lives of the attendees. Peter is the closest we have to a main character and he exhibits a shy personality. While other characters wax philosophical theories about the potential future of computer technology, Mike Papageorge is experiencing a surreal journey that has walking (and sometimes dancing) around the hotel, going room-to-room looking for somewhere to stay. Peter and Mike are the two characters in the film that find themselves in surreal Lynch-like situations, which includes Peter being propositioned to partake in a threesome with a free-spirited couple and Mike going through a bizarre method of being reborn.
The decision for director-writer Andrew Bujalski to shoot “Computer Chess” using a 1968 SonyAVC-3260 tube video camera is an interesting idea. The film also acts like a blast from the past that would remind moviegoers of a time where computers were importable, clunky machines. Special mention should go to production designer Michael Brickner and costume designer Colin Wilkes for managing to recreate the 1980s from the technical equipment and cheap furniture to the clothes that nobody would be caught dead wearing in the present.
Along with his cinematographer Matthias Grunsky, Bujalski creates an interesting black-and-white film that features superimposed text, split screens and jarring images are if we are watching a homemade film via a broken VHS tape.
“Computer Chess” is a puzzle of a film that might require a second viewing. Aside from that, the movie is an astounding feat of surrealistic ideas and images set in a time where technology has not taken over our lives as it does today.
“Computer Chess” is now playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Click here for showtimes.