From the second it starts, Computer Chess feels like a cheap VHS tape taken from a back room somewhere. The gold one can find on those old tapes is endless, but Andrew Bujalski’s latest film, shot on a 1968 Sony AVC-3260 tube video camera, is truly on another level.
For such a seemingly low-budget film, Bujalski’s work here is incredibly ambitious. It kicks off as an almost innocuous documentary-like exploration of a computer chess tournament, with nerds spewing out Primer style techno-jargon at times and a lone female offering up some amusing bits of interaction. The comedy comes across so organically, finding humor in the way these humans interact with each other and the technology around them. This isn’t to say the script doesn’t pull for laughs as well, constantly delivering one-liners like, ”I do not think that Tesla is a good role model for your academic career.”
This mislead is exactly what makes the rest of the film, a nightmare whose giddy surrealism is on par with that of Lynch or Maddin, so goddamn fascinating. Computer Chess dives into the depths of existential comedy, prompting conversations about the difference between humanity and artificial intelligence that are sometimes hilarious and other times horrifying.