The Luzhin Defence (2000)

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Released 12-Jul-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Secret Window, Mona Lisa Smile, The Missing
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 104:49
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Marleen Gorris

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring John Turturro
Emily Watson
Geraldine James
Stuart Wilson
Christopher Thompson
Fabio Sartor
Peter Blythe
Orla Brady
Mark Tandy
Kelly Hunter
Alexander Hunting
Alfredo Pea
Fabio Pasquini
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Alexandre Desplat

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Vladimir Nabokov is a name to strike fear into the hearts of Literature students. His broad, dense and impossibly complicated novels are no doubt worthy inclusions in the literary halls of honour, but they are frequently inaccessible and difficult to be truly involved in. The Luzhin Defence, however, is a slighter, less complex story, and told here by director Marleen Gorris, (who also directed one of my all time favourite films, Antonia's Line), there is a delicacy and elegance to the film that I found immensely satisfying.

      The inimitable John Turturro plays Aleksandr Ivanovich 'Sascha' Luzhin, a chess savant from Aristocratic Russia, who has come to Como in Italy to play a championship tournament. His worthy opponent, Dottore Salvatore Turati (Fabio Sartor) is being mentored by Sascha's nemesis, his former teacher, Leo Valentinov (Stuart Wilson), who abandoned him years before for the bright purses of America when he felt that Sascha would not ultimately live up to his expectations. Valentinov is desperate to vindicate his decision by proving that Sascha is not up to the pressure of major tournament play, and he will use all of Sascha's vulnerabilities to manipulate that outcome.

      There is, however, one unexpected adversary to Valentinov's plan. Sascha has a brief encounter with the aristocratic and willful Natalia Katkov (Emily Watson) and their unlikely attraction to each other is swift and decisive. In a rare lucid moment away from the chessboard, Sascha proposes to her, and they speedily consummate their devotion to each other. For Sascha, Natalia is his queen, as was the aunt who originally taught him the game. Through various flashbacks we are shown the confused and tempestuous upbringing Sascha underwent, such that chess was not just his escape, but also his metaphor for existence - the wily queen, the vulnerable king, the intransigent rook - these were the images that allowed him to process existence.

      What follows is a fight for the heart, mind and genius of Sascha. In spite of her parents' objection, Natalia determines to marry Sascha, but Valentinov is an unscrupulous opponent. His long historical ties to Sascha means he knows all of his many weaknesses, and he takes advantage of all of them in the attempt to destroy his quarry.

      In watching this film, I was frequently reminded of the movie Shine, in which Geoffrey Rush portrayed the life of David Helfgott. The comparisons are obvious I suppose - savant genius, against all odds, meets the love of his life, setting off a war of hidden agendas. Turturro's character is somewhat less manic than Rush's very accurate portrayal of the gifted pianist, but there are strong parallels and equal risks inherent in both actors' performances. There is a knife's edge with such roles - too little characterisation and the frisson is lost - too much and the character spirals off into cartoonism. The very excellent Turturro finds exactly that edge. Watson has less to do here, characteristic perhaps, of the "also-ran" status of many females in Nabokov's work. Whilst she is central to the narrative tension, her own motivations are barely explored. Nonetheless, it is a generous and well-placed performance by this wonderful actress.

      Overall, it's impossible not to connect this work with the sort of films that the Merchant/Ivory crew are famous for. It has that same elegant, luscious period feel to it, with classy performances by the entire cast and glorious settings masterfully filmed. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching this film. It's not groundbreaking, but it's a very entertaining way to spend some time.

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Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1, which is a crying shame. It's hard to fathom why film companies are still butchering presentations by tampering with their original format.

     There is little contrast available on this presentation, which tends to cast a softening masque over the entire film, making it look a little like the entire thing was filmed through a Scotch Mist. There is mild low level noise.

     The colours are subtle and generally rather lush and lovely. Not popping off the screen primary bursts of colour - just a lovely, warm and rich palette.

     This presentation is largely artefact free and has acceptably low grain levels.

     This is a single sided disc, so there is no layer change with which to contend.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The soundtrack is delivered in English Dolby Digital 2.0.

      The dialogue is nice and crisp and there are no audio sync problems in evidence.

     The musical score by Alexandre Desplat is absolutely captivating and sets just the right tone as a background to the film.

     The use of surround and subwoofer is minimal, but this is not inappropriate in this dialogue driven film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



     The menu is basically static with theme music.


     Trailers for Secret Window, Mona Lisa Smile, Missing and The Luzhin Defence.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

      The Region 4 misses out on:

      The Region 1 misses out on:

    What a disgrace! I can only recommend that you order in!


     An elegant and entertaining film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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