Juxtaposing Chess with Life

Odysseus’ Gambit was an awesome story, but I wasn’t too happy with the film editing techniques that were used. I get distracted easily by jump cuts and cuts to seemingly unrelated shots, but I understand what the author was trying to do with the story. He was trying to show all of the little things that make up the main characters life, but a lot of them weren’t very evident right away. Immediately I noticed many shots of cigarettes either just in a hand or the main character smoking a cigarette. Also, there were many close ups either to the main characters eyes, different parts of the chess game, or other seemingly random focal points in the subject area. There were montage sort of cuts lined up in a series, some of black and white helicopters, some of black and white photos of children.

The story in this documentary becomes one of the main character, who plays chess for money on the streets of New York City (or so it looks) and is essentially homeless. The story is not told verbatim and you have to sort of piece it together from the pieces of information that each shot or scene gives you. At one point we figure out that the man is an immigrant from Cambodia when someone asks if he is healthy and he replies that he has seizure disorder from being shot in the war in Cambodia. Later, we find out that he didn’t leave Cambodia by choice when explains that he is a piece of American history while displaying cut outs from the Washington Post newspaper with his picture, showing that he was “rescued” as a child refugee in Cambodia, but he explains that he was “kidnapped”.

The story is deep, and sad, and happy at the same time. Deep because of the sheer subject matter, sad because the man is homeless and away from his home country with no ability to work or health care, happy in that he is generous (insists on paying for a rider’s fee on the metro despite his own lack of funds) and has many friends, visitors, and a generally positive attitude. The important technique used in this documentary is the juxtaposition of chess playing as the main subject with the main character’s life as a main subject. There is no narration, but just a few words which guide the theme of the documentary throughout the film. The character will start talking about a specific chess piece, technique, or move and as he does this the film moves into how that kind of piece/move/technique relates to his life. The most specific relationship I can think of is the mentioning of the chess situation “stalemate”. This is explained right after the main character expresses his unrest at not being able to work, move, or leave in this country.

Overall I’m impressed with this documentary. It was short, intriguing, emotional, and abstract simultaneously.


About pec35

University of Pittsburgh Class of 2013 I hood a lot and I nerd some. Hood's where the heart is, nerd's where the words from.
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