The Luzhin Defence

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The Luzhin Defence is a 2000 movie starring John Turturro and Emily Watson and was directed by Dutch director Marleen Gorris. The film centres around a mentally tormented chess grandmaster and the young woman he meets while competing at a world-class tournament in Italy.

The screenplay was based on the novel The Defense (or The Luzhin Defence) by Vladimir Nabokov.

Emily Watson received best actress nominations at the British Independent Film Awards and the London Film Critics Circle Awards.

Contents

Plot

It's the early 1920s and Aleksandr Ivanovich 'Sascha' Luzhin (Turturro), a gifted but tormented chess player, arrives in a Northern Italian city to compete in an international chess competition. Prior to the tournament he meets Natalia Katkov (Watson) and he falls in love with her almost immediately. She in turn finds his manner to be appealing and they begin to see each other in spite of her mother's disapproval.

Competing alongside Luzhin in the championship is Dottore Salvatore Turati (Fabio Sartor), who is approached by Leo Valentinov (Stuart Wilson), a Russian, who is Luzhin's former chess tutor from pre-revolutionary Russia. Valentinov tells the Italian that Luzhin cannot handle pressure and he intimates he will make sure that his former prodigy will be unsettled off-table giving Turati a winning chance.

The competition starts badly for Luzhin who is unsettled by the presence of his former friend and coach. He struggles through the early rounds but he soon begins to win again as his relationship with Katkov becomes closer and intimate. She then informs her parents that she is going to marry him. Meanwhile Luzhin goes onto reach the final and face Turati.

But in the finals the Russian Émigré loses out to the time clock, forcing the game to adjourn. However, outside the venue, he is whisked away by an accomplice of Valentinov who abandons him in the countryside. His former teacher knows that this will completely unhinge him because of the memory of his parents' abandonment many years ago. Luzhin wanders aimlessly until he collapses and is found by a group of Blackshirts.

Luzhin is taken to the hospital suffering from complete mental exhaustion. The doctor informs Katkov that he will die if he keeps playing chess as he is addicted to the game and it's consuming his very being. Nevertheless even while recuperating Valentinov comes around with a chess board encouraging Luzhin to finish the match with the Italian, Turati.

Eventually Luzhin leaves the hospital. He and Natalia then agree to marry at the earliest opportunity. However on the morning of the wedding, Luzhin is put into a car with Valentinov, who tells him that there is the small matter of finishing the competition. In terror, Luzhin leaps from the car. Dazed, cut and mentally confused, he stumbles back to the hotel where he tries to dig up a glass chess piece in the grounds, one which he buried years ago, but he does not find it.

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