Chess Story

Directed by Philipp Stölzl
Film Movement
112 Minutes
Germany, Austria
Literature, History, European Studies
Not Rated
DVD $29.95
PPR $200.00
DRL $499.00
PPR+DRL $599.00
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Vienna, 1938: Austria is occupied by the Nazis. Dr. Josef Bartok (Oliver Masucci) is preparing to flee to America with his wife Anna when he is arrested by the Gestapo. As a former notary to the deposed Austrian aristocracy, he is told to help the local Gestapo leader gain access to their private bank accounts in order to fund the Nazi regime. Refusing to cooperate, Bartok is locked in solitary confinement. Just as his mind is beginning to crack, Bartok happens upon a book of famous chess games. To withstand the torture of isolation, Bartok disappears into the world of chess, maintaining his sanity only by memorizing every move. As the action flashes forward to a transatlantic crossing on which he is a passenger, it seems as though Bartok has finally found freedom. But recounting his story to his fellow travelers, it's clear that his encounters with both the Gestapo and with the royal game itself have not stopped haunting him. Adapted with opulent attention to period detail by filmmaker and opera director Philipp Stölzl, CHESS STORY brings Stefan Zweig's stirring final novella to life.

Named on of the Best Narrative Films of 2023 by Video Librarian
"The film is beautifully shot from beginning to end, and the opening sequence is experimental and haunting. Some scenes and shots seem almost Hitchcockian in composition which will captivate thriller fans throughout the film. I didn’t want to look away from Chess Story once: Its story, mystery, and subtle visual effects make this German-language psychological thriller a must-see for any fans of the genre or lovers of mystery. Highly Recommended. Editor’s Choice." - Video Librarian

"An Austrian lawyer is suddenly separated from his wife and arrested by the Nazis. Asked to give up the account numbers for the funds he manages, he refuses, and is placed into solitary confinement for months. Eventually, he manages to steal a book about chess, and through the memorization of various chess moves, finds he can withstand the solitude. The film deftly manages two timelines, the imprisonment by the Nazis, and his later journey on a ship to America. The film is beautifully shot and acted, then pulls off the trick of merging the two timelines, so that one is never sure if the second one is real or imagined. Based on the story “The Royal Game” written during World War II shortly before its author, Stefan Zweig, committed suicide, it gives a feeling of never-ending darkness and despair. An elegant glimpse into the loss of one’s mind. Highly Recommended." - EMRO


  • Oliver Masucci
  • Rolf Lassgård
  • Albrecht Schuch
  • Birgit Minichmayr
DVD Features

Bonus Short Film
Der Tunnel
Directed by Christoph Daniel and Marc Schmidheiny
Germany, Switzerland
German with English subtitles
10 minutes

A student on a train finds himself in an existential dilemma when the tunnel he is traveling through never seems to end.

Discs: 1

  • Highest Rating
    "A diabolically knotted psychological thriller... Thanks to an outstanding performance by Mr. Masucci, who recalls Mads Mikkelsen’s haunted intensity; an elegant turn by Mr. Schuch as his genteel torturer; and charged direction by Mr. Stölzl, who parsimoniously hands out each clue, the film remains breathless throughout."
    Kyle Smith, The Wall Street Journal
  • Highest Rating
    "Stölzl craftily melds the genres of period drama and psychological thriller, not for the purposes of reheated nostalgia, but to shed a cold light on the recursions of historical trauma."
    William Repass, Slant Magazine
  • Highest Rating
    "Philipp Stölzl’s “Chess Story” masterfully confounds expectations as a tautly calibrated, intricately constructed Chinese puzzle of a period drama set during Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria. Masucci, who appears in every scene, potently conveys a multitude of unspoken emotions with his remarkably expressive face.... He’s never less than riveting...."
    Michael Rechtshaffen, Los Angeles Times
  • Highest Rating
    "Spellbinding! A gripping, provocative and genuinely poignant journey."
    Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru
  • Highest Rating
    "The film is an acting showcase. The entire ensemble is fantastic. Chess Story is a subtle, soft-spoken killer of a film."
    Benjamin Franz, Film Threat
  • Highest Rating
    "The adaptation of ""Chess Story"" is one of the rare cases in which the film has not only managed to leave the original behind, but to surpass it. Visually intoxicating...."
    Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • Highest Rating
    "Chess Story’s presentation is expressly cinematic, expertly using cuts, angles, lights, shadows, and colors to convey Bartok’s increasingly tenuous grasp on reality. Chess Story is a stunner."
    J. Paul Johnson, Film Obsessive
  • Highest Rating
    "Chess Story is a diabolically knotted psychological thriller...."
    Kyle Smith, National Review
  • Highest Rating
    "Great performances and lavish production values.... Watching Masucci and Schuch face off onscreen is thrilling...."
    Lee Jutton, Film Inquiry
  • Highest Rating
    "Sensational adaptation of Stefan Zweig...a forceful drama, smart and thrilling. Masucci acts superbly.... "
  • Highest Rating
    "Enthralling, great cinema! "


Awards & Recognition

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