Dangerous Moves ("La diagonale du fou") is a 1984 film from Switzerland, in French, directed by Richard Dembo.
No, it's not one of those T&A movies that Cinemax used to run back in the 1990s. It's actually a film about chess! Akiva Liebskind (Michel Piccoli) and Pavius Fromm (Alexandre Arbatt) are facing off in Switzerland for the world chess championship. Both have their issues. Liebskind, the defending world champion, is from the Soviet Union. He's an older man, and he has has a serious heart condition. Liebskind was forced to come to Switzerland without his personal physician, as the doctor is seen as a defection risk, because he's a Jew whose son has already gone to Israel. Fromm, the much younger challenger, is also from Russia but defected to the west in the recent past. While otherwise happy with his decision, Fromm worries about his wife Marina, who is still stuck in the Soviet Union.
The movie features two major stars playing the wives of the two grandmasters. Leslie Caron (Gigi) plays Liebskind's wife Henia, but has hardly any dialogue. Liv Ullmann plays Marina, popping up in the final third of the film.
The French title translates out as "The Fool's Diagonal" and is a reference to the chess piece called "bishop" in English but "fool" in French, which travels on the diagonal squares.
- The Alcoholic: Andre, a supporting character. He was once a great enough chess player to face off for the championship against Liebskind, but has since been ruined by drinking. He's usually drunk when he shows up at the match. When Fromm rejects Andre's request for a job as one of his coaches, Andre helps Liebskind instead, and Liebskind wins the next match.
- And Starring: Liv Ullmann gets a big "and Liv Ullmann" credit at the end of the opening titles, after all the minor players have been credited on a single screen.
- And the Adventure Continues: The movie ends with Fromm coming to visit Liebskind in the hospital. As soon as Fromm sits down by the bed, the two of them start playing chess again, without even having a board, visualizing in their heads while calling out moves to each other. The camera pulls back, freeze frame, credits roll.
- Anticlimax: In-Universe, as Fromm wins the world championship by default when Liebskind's heart attack forces him to withdraw, with the match tied at five games apiece.
- Big Game: A series of them, for the chess championship of the world.
- Broken Bird: When the Russians finally deliver Marina to Switzerland, in an effort to throw Fromm off his game, she is revealed to be this. She had a nervous breakdown back in Russia, and is nervous and weepy. She's afraid that she'll cause him to lose, and tells him that she has to have her medications to survive.
- Busman's Holiday: Liebskind unwinds after matches by—playing Chinese checkers with one of his coaches, or regular checkers with Henia. When he asks why she never plays chess with him, Henia (in one of only two scenes where Leslie Caron gets to talk) says its because she knows he wouldn't let her win.
- The Chessmaster: Subverted. The two grandmaster chess player protagonists are realistically high strung and emotional, with little aptitude for or interest in the manipulation of people and events. It's the hangers-on and government handlers surrounding them who engage in all the intrigues, scheming, and chess metaphors.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: The stress of the match causes Liebskind to restart an old smoking habit. Since Liebskind has a serious heart condition, this is a pretty terrible idea.
- Flashback: One scene is a flashback to when Liebskind, already a grandmaster, visited the chess club in Kovno where 10-year-old Fromm played. Liebskind plays speed chess against all the youngsters, but after Fromm actually beats him, Liebskind sticks around and plays Fromm a couple more times.
- Riddle for the Ages: Who won that game at the end?
- Ripped from the Headlines: The film is inspired by the Anatoly Karpov-Viktor Korchnoi world championship match in 1978. Karpov was a Russian and the defending champion, while Korchnoi was a Russian who had defected to the west in 1976. Korchnoi's wife was still in the Soviet Union, as was his son. And there were many wacky complaints by both players (the chairs were X-rayed!). Karpov's team brought a hypnotist into the room, just as Liebskind's team does with the "parapsychologist" who freaks out Fromm.
- Super OCD: While the match is obviously inspired by the 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match (see Ripped from the Headlines above), the character of Fromm is also partially inspired by the legendary Bobby Fischer. When Fromm first enters the room where the match will be held, he makes a series of wacky complaints, demanding that the lighting be adjusted and that carpet be laid down on the floor, and demanding a different set of chess pieces after deciding the ones on the table aren't heavy enough. Fischer had done similarly weird things in his 1972 match against Boris Spassky.
- Surprise Checkmate: Liebskind ties the tournament up at 5 games apiece by pulling off a surprise checkmate of Fromm. And if that weren't spectacular enough he does it after Fromm puts him in check with a pawn, by moving a bishop to capture Fromm's pawn, which simultaneously causes a discovered check and mate by Liebskind's rook. The movie at least portrays how shocking this is by having Liebskind scream "MATE! MATE!" in unrestrained joy after he does it. (In Real Life, of course, checkmates almost never happen in grandmaster play, with games either ending in draws or with one player resigning after recognizing they have lost.)
- Title Drop: One of Liebskind's people thinks that bringing Fromm's wife to Switzerland would be a "dangerous move".
- Translation Convention: Multiple scenes with Russians speaking French to each other in private.
- Worthy Opponent: Fromm clearly feels this way about Liebskind, wanting desperately to beat him, while also remembering fondly the time when he was 10 years old and grandmaster Liebskind paid a visit to Fromm's chess club. Liebskind feels this way about Fromm by the end at least, saying "I was wondering when you'd come" when Fromm arrives in his hospital room.