“Chess and Laundry,” written and directed by George Abi-Hanna, is David Lynch directs the Seventh Seal meets a Kung Fu movie based on a script by a jazz composer with sound design done in Tom Waits’ tool shed. In other words, a surrealist, existential, political sight and sound roundup centered around a man and a woman fighting it out over a chess board. The film tells the story of Nigella (Meri Jebirashvili), a maternity nurse, who has just trudged her way through a blizzard back home after pulling a double shift only to be called back into work. But she needs to complete one errand before heading back to the hospital: the laundry. While in the apartment building’s laundry room, Nigella is coerced into a chess match by Kaspar (Paul Martinez), a man dressed as if he was ready for tai chi in the park prior to getting snowed in.
When watching the short film, two quotes, one by André Gide and the other by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, collided in my head creating a hybrid of the two with a dash of altered meaning. This new Frankenstein quote is as follows: “Art begins with resistance. And I know it when I see it.” OK, sure, Gide was talking about the labor in which art is created and Justice Stewart was talking about identifying pornography. Though, like pornography, you know it when you see it. Because art is personal and speaks to everyone differently. And Abi-Hanna’s 15-minute short film is art—contemporary art about resistance, a social and ecological resistance, set in a conflicted reality of nightmarish duality (or chess match) which at times seems otherworldly, despite being man-made. But welcome to the world we live in.
This duality presents itself in various forms throughout the film. Towards the beginning we are presented with a pan shot giving us a nice view of Nigella’s bookshelf, which contains copies of A Line in the Sand, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Cat’s Cradle to name a few. These books deal with a form of duality. A Line in the Sand is about the struggles and rivalry between Britain and France in an occupied Middle East. Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World explores the notion of conscious and unconscious mind. Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is an allegorical story about the Cuban Missile Crisis and deals with themes of truth and lies, science and religion, and their pros and cons. Vonnegut’s book happens to also be named after a game, which like chess, is played between two people and the book ends with the planet turning into a hellish winter wonderland. And a winter wonderland is where “Chess and Laundry” begins.
These books serve almost like breadcrumbs left by the director so that we can find our way in the film. There is one book I would have squeezed between two books on the shelf. And that book is Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) by Thomas Mann. I would have included it because of one phrase: “Everything is politics.” And whether you like it or not, Mann wasn’t wrong. It seems like someone, and not to beat a dead horse into glue, drew a line in the sand for every imaginable topic and people took their places like pieces on a chess board. Climate change? It’s either scientifically proven or fake news. Racism in America? It’s either alive and well or ended with the existence of Martin Luther King, Jr. or with Obama becoming president. Gender inequality? #MeToo? Once again, depending on who you ask and, more often than not, which political party they belong to, it’s a horrific reality women face day in and day out, or just men being men and enjoying some locker room bullshitting. Though, this is nothing new. In the US, people were once told that high-fructose corn syrup was a healthy alternative to sugar. Why? Politics.
The world of “Chess and Laundry” is this Everything-Is-Politics-Chess-Match world. Nigella is the Women’s March competing against the male Kung Fu master. She is the new way of thinking against the old stuck playing an ancient, analog game in a digital world. But even this digital world is still binary.
Chess And Laundry
Starring: Meri Jebirashvili, Paul Martinez, Sarah Audu
Written & Directed by George Abi-Hanna
Music by Cedar & Soil
Chess and Laundry premiered at the Barcelona International Short Film & Video Festival 2019 where it was the winner in the Best Audio category.