Friday, February 28, 2014

My Favorite Films of 2013

10) Computer Chess

Period pieces have an unusual burden. They must present a series of values and customs that are antiquated enough to appeal to an audience's historical curiosity, but they also can't be completely unmoored from contemporary framework, for fear of alienation. In that regard, Computer Chess is an anomaly. Shot on analog video cameras and improvised from an eight-page treatment, the film is formally vexing. Dry as a bone, rhythmically uneven, and laced with complex computer jargon, Andrew Bujalski doesn't transport you to the 80s so much as strand you in it, shooting "actors" on obsolete technology as they interact with obsolete technology. To call this niche would be charitable. But Bujalski's fourth feature is more relevant than its creaky exterior lets on, and once this tournament of competing computer chess programs sneaks in plot threads about a budding romance and a government sponsor, you're suddenly smack in the middle of an allegorical story about the birth of a new technological era. The film's freewheeling structure and casual engagement with genre elements allows it to bounce between the intersection of scientific growth and militarization, the human urge to reject new experiences, and the first inkling of a computer's capacity for intelligence, chillingly rendered through a series of simple messages. And this is to say nothing of the fetus or the prostitute or the army of cats. Difficult to watch, not for everyone, but unique enough to really stick.