Magazine article Screen International

'Magnus': Tribeca Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Magnus': Tribeca Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Benjamin Ree, Norway, 2016. 76 mins.

Magnus Carlsen, called the Mozart of chess, became world champion in 2013 at the age of 22. Benjamin Ree's rousing documentary shows us how this taciturn prodigy got there, and how his family keeps him sane. Chess doesn't lend itself easily to cinema, although there are some stirring exceptions, most of them involving the tortured Bobby Fischer. Taut and paced with drama at 76 minutes, Magnus is a sure-fire festival sensation.

Magnus, much of which is in English, also has family appeal, as a film about talent and dedication that even teenagers can enjoy. Its real berth will be on television, where it can track Carlsen's rise to stardom or play alongside sports docs. Ree's study of Carlsen is also watchable enough to withstand the rise of a new chess prodigy, which could happen tomorrow.

As much as we learn about Carlsen - which is a lot, given the cooperation of his father, who takes us through much of Ree's film - there's still a mystery at the core of his remarkable mental agility, sustaining an element of spontaneity even when we know how events will turn out.

The often-inscrutable Carlsen looks a bit like Matt Damon when he smiles and Magnus takes us back to the childhood of a boy who was bad at sports, and bullied for it, but who possessed enhanced powers of concentration that somehow shifted from assembling lego toys to surveying strategy on the chessboard.

Films about the motivating and formative power of sport or performance are everywhere. Spellbound (2002) found drama and an audience in following children to spelling bees. Dancing in Jaffa (20013) saw ballroom competitions with Palestinians and Jews in Israel as a back door (stage door?) toward tolerance. Brooklyn Castle (2012) challenged cultural prejudices with chess in the hood.

Yet Magnus isn't about role models. If it resembles an earlier documentary, that film is Keep On Keepin' On (2014), in which the serene piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, now 30, meets and jams with musicians convened by the jazz trumpeter Clark Terry. …

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