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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Dangerous Moves (1984)

"We all destroy ourselves in one way or another. What's important is to enjoy oneself in the process."
- Akiva Liebskind (Michel Piccoli)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: October 31, 2003

Stars: Michel Piccoli, Alexandre Arbatt, Leslie Caron, Liv Ullmann
Director: Richard Dembo

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:40m:34s
Release Date: June 24, 2003
UPC: 037429176320
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C+ A-BC+ D+

DVD Review

Despite its cerebral nature, static field of play and snail's pace, the game of chess has spawned a number of involving motion pictures (and even a successful Broadway musical) over the years. While chess itself might not provide the necessary thrills to support a major film, exploring the players' complex, brilliant minds can often yield fascinating results. Dangerous Moves takes us inside the tortured psyches of an ailing Grandmaster and his bold, flashy challenger as they battle in Geneva for the world championship crown. And though this clash of titans doesn't always ignite the expected fireworks, this Oscar®-winning Swiss film contains fine acting and several riveting scenes, which help offset its overly deliberate delivery.

The two protagonists hail from the same country (Soviet Russia), but have chosen divergent paths of life. Reigning champion Akiva Liebskind (Michel Piccoli) silently supports the Communist regime, although age and government-imposed stress have taken a physical toll, which deeply concerns his stoic wife Henia (Leslie Caron). On the other hand, challenger Pavius Fromm (Alexandre Arbatt), a Soviet dissident (although he prefers the term "exile"), lives the European high life, complete with fast cars, swimming pools, cushy digs, and bodyguards galore. Yet despite his rock-star success, a disturbing degree of paranoia afflicts Fromm, forcing the cocky prima donna to constantly look over his shoulder. He suspects bitter Soviet officials will seek revenge for his defection by trying to sabotage his golden opportunity to unseat the revered Liebskind. And he's not entirely wrong.

Soon, we realize we're not only watching a chess match, but also a meticulously crafted game of cat and mouse. Each side strives for any advantage it can wrangle and employs whatever means necessary to achieve it. As Liebskind worries about losing his title, his anxiety level rises. He starts smoking again and experiences chest pain, but refuses to default. Meanwhile, Fromm imagines betrayal and dirty tricks at every turn, and ultimately stumbles when his estranged wife Marina (Liv Ullmann) surprisingly reappears.

Now that the Cold War is a distant memory and Russian relations have thawed, the original edgy tension of Dangerous Moves has waned. Produced at the height of the Reagan years when nuclear war seemed a distinct, if not imminent, threat, the film not so subtly offers chess as a metaphor for the era's complex political machinations, and shows how such polarized ideologies affect not just the world at large, but individuals, too. At every level, the film seems to say, the universe is a chess game, and each move can have dangerous ramifications.

Like chess itself, the methodical Dangerous Moves often plods along, spending too much time on the various matches instead of the more relevant and absorbing intrigue. Piccoli, Arbatt, Caron, and Ullmann keep things interesting and produce some taut confrontations, but I expected more from a foreign film Oscar®-winner. Writer-director Richard Dembo wisely maintains Swiss neutrality in his storytelling, never tipping his hand in favor of a particular side or character, although his stark, barebones production possesses a definite Soviet slant. He also refuses to resort to espionage clichés, properly anchoring focus on the two men and how they handle the competition's intense pressure and political implications.

There have been better Cold War films than Dangerous Moves, and better chess dramas, too (Searching for Bobby Fischer quickly comes to mind). But the ideas and emotions behind this film linger long after the rather undistinguished presentation ends—which makes Dangerous Moves a mixed bag, but still worth a look.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Despite some age-related flaws, Dangerous Moves looks surprisingly crisp on DVD, thanks to a new anamorphic transfer struck from a high-definition master. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the film suffers from slight fading and common print defects, but overall clarity remains solid throughout. Fleshtones contain a bit too much red and complex patterns occasionally shimmer, but black levels are rich and the sharp, smooth lines show no evidence of edge enhancement. For a 20-year-old foreign film, Dangerous Moves surpasses expectations.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby stereo track contains more imperfections than I anticipated, with plenty of pops dotting the audio. One severe instance of dropout, lasting about five seconds and obscuring a couple of lines of dialogue, was especially jarring and unfortunate. (Of course, unless the viewer speaks fluent French, comprehension of the spoken word is a non-issue. No English audio track is offered.) Otherwise, the workmanlike soundtrack performs as required, but lacks any flair or panache.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Be7++—a guide to chess notation
Extras Review: Not much to write home about here, but HVE does include a couple of token extras to placate fans of the DVD medium. Producer's Perspective is a brief five-minute interview with Swiss producer Arthur Cohn, the man behind such enduring and acclaimed films as The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Black and White in Color and Central Station. Although the interview was recorded in February 2003 especially for HVE, Cohn never mentions Dangerous Moves, preferring instead to speak in general terms about the art of producing and lessons he learned from his mentor, Italian director Vittorio De Sica. Cohn relates what he believes are the three steadfast elements of a successful film—script, director, and editing—with special emphasis placed on the quality of the script. According to Cohn, "A bad director cannot spoil totally a good script, and a good director cannot do anything with a bad script." The mildly interesting interview merits attention; just don't expect any insights concerning Dangerous Moves. A Cohn filmography is also included in this section.

For chess fans, or those intrigued by the constant notations made by the main characters during their on-screen sparring, Be7++ seeks to explain, in essay form, how to properly keep track of the moves in a chess match. Accompanying diagrams and charts help demystify the process, but even these step-by-step instructions quickly eclipsed my level of understanding, leaving me dazed and confused. Better luck to all of you.



Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

While I have trouble equating Dangerous Moves with other international Oscar®-winners, Richard Dembo's Cold War relic is both involving and thought-provoking as it recalls an uncertain time of tension and mistrust. The movie's slow pace and proletarian style are balanced by excellent performances and plenty of subtext, making this forgotten drama definitely worth a rental for fans of foreign films, chess, and political intrigue.

 


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