x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Documentary explores a Cold War character

The life of the famous chess champion is documented in Bobby Fischer Against the World.

Bobby Fischer in a scene from the documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World.
Bobby Fischer in a scene from the documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World.

Director: Liz Garbus
Featuring: Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky and Garry Kasparov
****

A genius competitor whose successes inspired entire nations, whose rivalries were the stuff of legend and whose career ended far too soon - the story of US chess champion Bobby Fischer has startling similarities with one of this year's other high-profile documentaries, Senna.

Both he and Ayrton Senna seemed to have a natural compulsion to compete, but unlike the Brazilian racing driver, Fischer was plagued by severe psychological problems, a spiky, reclusive personality and the sporting ethics of a spoiled eight-year-old. But while Senna's career was extinguished as a result of a tragic accident, Fischer's was doomed not to death, but self-imposed obscurity.

For this reason, Bobby Fischer Against the World is likely to be overshadowed by Senna. But, by focusing on one man's extraordinary story, both films succeed at turning a somewhat exclusive pursuit into something universally fascinating.

Fischer's 1972 World Chess Championship battle against the cool Soviet master Boris Spassky is the centrepiece of the film. Through a series of interviews with those involved, it follows his gruelling training regime, his minders' struggles to ensure he would attend the tournament and, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the sky-high political stakes.

As well as the dramatic events at play, some of the documentary's greatest moments explore the game itself (did you know there are more possible games of chess than atoms in the solar system?), and the unique individuals who excel at it.

It's little surprise the HBO-produced film received only a limited theatrical release. Unlike the bright and noisy Senna, this looks like a small-screen documentary, but with a real-life drama that is compelling, tragic and often hilarious, does it really matter?

Bobby Fischer Against the World screens at the Marina Mall Vox 2 tonight at 9:30pm and again on Wednesday at 1:45pm