Just as no man is a hero to his valet, no man is a genius to his family. Magnus is an engaging film about the life of 25-year-old Norwegian world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, as told largely through the eyes of his dad. Lovingly assembled by first-time feature film-maker Benjamin Ree (who, at 29, is Magnus’s peer), the film features archival footage and plenty of home movies shot by Magnus’s supportive clan, beginning when he was a toddler. Magnus is a kid who loves to swim and goof around on holiday, yet frequently moves off to sit alone thinking. Often called the ‘Mozart of Chess’ for his innate ability, his memory, his creativity, and his intuition, Magnus shows an aptitude for intellectual challenges at a young age. His extreme memory allows him to recall the areas, population numbers, flags and capitals of the world by age five. Both his parents are engineers, and father Henrik explains that Magnus’s unusual planning and thinking skills were what inspired him to introduce chess to his young son.

As Magnus grows up, his dad escorts him to all kinds of junior matches. He participates in his first tournament at age eight. Things get more serious, the journeys to tournaments get longer, and the stress level builds. Magnus’s sisters and mum come along too, for moral support. As they laugh and splash in hotel pools, Magnus’s normally pensive look melts away. This striking genius is a big kid who still loves Donald Duck comics and playing cards with his sisters. Magnus clearly has a wonderful support network, and as he grows into his role as a world champion, he learns to deal better with his awkwardness. He still looks a bit uncomfortable, though, during his recent makeover as a heart-throb and fashion model for G-Star Raw.

With the next World Chess Championship scheduled to be held in New York in November, Magnus will play against 26-year-old Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. This, the youngest world title match in chess history, is sure to inspire interest in Benjamin Ree’s warm and well-made film.

Brenda Benthien

Brenda Benthien is a program consultant and the Guest Relations Director of the Cleveland International Film Festival. She works in Guest Management at the Nordic Film Days in Lübeck and serves as a consultant to the Cinetopia International Film Festival in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Brenda was involved with starting up AFI Fest in Los Angeles, and has lived and worked in Munich and Tokyo. When she isn’t busy with festivals, Brenda is a German translator of screenplays and film-related texts. Her translation of Rudolf Arnheim’s Film Essays and Criticism is published by the University of Wisconsin press. Brenda lives in Hamburg and runs the Hamburg Review website, a critical compendium of writings on film and literature. www.hamburg-review.de