📷 : Used with permission, Amitice
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
Movies and TV shows about drugs or with disorienting presentations
Unlike the video games from the early ‘90s, recent releases of games played on sophisticated, high tech, and dare I say high-cost platforms, contain more lifelike animations of artificial blood and guts than their predecessors. The characters aren’t real. But while research does not show that such games influence violent behavior, it does suggest that regular play of such games makes players less bothered by “violent or distressing images.” The burning question, then, is can games go too far in imitating real life? Keyvan Sheikhalishahi broaches this question in his 31-minute short, Divertimento, a story centered on the no-tech game of chess and solving a murder.
Divertimento stars Kellan Lutz (The Guardians of Justice (Will Save You), The Twilight Saga - Breaking Down) as Jonas Olsen, an uber-wealthy 40-something, who finds Cathy on a dark dirt road one night while riding in the back of his Rolls Royce. Played by Torry Devitto (Chicago Med, Pretty Little Liars), Cathy is well-dressed but disoriented and clueless about how she got there. Both, though, received invitations from Divertimento, a mysterious group, to join them at a castle to participate in a game to solve a murder. Jonas gets Cathy in the car, and they continue on the road to the event.
The film opens ominously in the middle of a dark and eerie castle in France with about 30 “guests and souls.” All present at the event are serious and wealthy individuals in formal attire, who seemingly come together each year to challenge each other at chess. The women intently watch in support of their husbands as they compete against each other. In another instance of art imitating life, the scene reinforces the view of women as ardent supporters of their men, and of chess as a male-dominated activity. There is no dance or music at this gathering, only the occasional comment from an observer, making the space quiet, which allows for centering the chess match as the focal point. This is despite the invitation to spend the night playing a game to solve the killer of one of the guests.
Divertimento feels like a play with the dark ambience of an Agatha Christie novel, combined with the disorienting sense of the 2010 movie, Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Divertimento gradually pulls us from a story about a game of murder into the center of a high stakes chess game, and back again. The whiplash mystifies us, as we get settled into one storyline only to have it shift to another. What we come to realize is that the chess pieces are representations of the members of the group, and that the fate of the guests is tied to the moves made by the game’s players. For members of Divertimento, chess, then, is a game that costs lives.
Since we have become invested in Jonas, we feel as if we have a stake in him winning his match, particularly since he has promised his wife that it will be his last time attending the group’s annual soiree on their wedding anniversary. He tells her that he wants to beat Gustav again, insisting, “Just one more game of chess and it’ll be over.” When the outcome is not what Jonas planned, he accuses Gustav, played by Ola Rapace (Skyfall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), of cheating. The normally tamed gathering is disrupted by Jonas’s break in convention, inadvertently leading to tragic events. But should a game ever go this far? What’s beautiful about Divertimento is it leaves us to ponder this question for ourselves.
Most short films consist of a very small cast, typically no more than five actors. And the stories often serve as teasers for feature films or television series. While Divertimento has the makings for a feature film, it is a complete story with a cast of more than 30 people. Its shortcoming is its lack of racial/ethnic diversity, which speaks to the tendencies of wealthy people to gravitate to those who look like them and share their passions and perspectives on a range of matters – including competitive chess. For broader appeal, the film could have benefited from a more diverse cast. Nonetheless, Divertimento is intriguing as its mystique, darkness, and silence pulls us into the story, as if we are being invited to be a part of the games. If you think you can handle perplexity and the intense feeling of high stakes, go for it. But try to stay upright as you do!