Dragon’s Defense is a film about nothing. And not in the sense that Seinfeld is a TV show about “nothing”, but is really about everything. There’s no implied rule-breaking or casual genius in this description. It’s just a film about nothing. Or at least nothing interesting.
Samuel (Sagarmínaga) is a teacher religiously devoted to chess who finds himself in the hinterland between middle and old age. He’s one of life’s failures, but not out of any grand attempts to shoot for the moon and land on the stars. At this point in his life he’s simply too scared of failure to even attempt such a thing. He no longer competes at his beloved chess, instead mentoring a younger student, and his love life is non-existent despite sparks of interest with a student’s parent.
Sagarmínaga’s performance is decent enough considering the unadventurous material he’s given. He makes for a likeable presence and his struggle for self-confidence is endearing, albeit fairly low-stakes. He’s supported well by Manuel Navarro and Hernan Mendez playing two of his friends. They generate a knowing camaraderie, but feel more like colleagues forced to socialise than good friends. At times their triple act resembles Last of the Summer Wine without the slapstick.
First-time director Natalia Santa shoots her script competently enough, but doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary here either. She’s essentially shot coverage with little push for artistic expression, and the cinematography is equally flat. Everything is just very safe.
A film needs a reason to exist. It needn’t aspire to big ideas or mind-blowing visuals but there should at least be a point to it – a story to tell or an argument to make. Dragon’s Defense offers little of either. It’s a pleasant, simple drama featuring some entertaining characters. That’s about it.
CAST: Gonzalo Sagarmínaga, Manuel Navarro, Hernan Mendez
DIRECTOR: Natalia Santa
WRITER: Natalia Santa
SYNOPSIS: A chess enthusiast mentors a younger player.