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Review: ‘Algorithms’ sheds light on blind teen chess players

For the blind players in “Algorithms,” chess is not just a mental game but a tactile one.

Sociologist Ian McDonald’s first feature-length documentary profiles three Indian teen boys competing in blind chess tournaments and the mentor who’s determined to produce a world champ. Shooting in handsome black-and-white, the filmmaker zeros in as the contenders’ fingers read the specially designed board and pieces, and he captures on their intent faces the significance of each move.

McDonald’s up-close filmmaking tracks the boys at regional and international meets over three years. The repetition of chess lingo can be mind-numbing, until it becomes a kind of poetry, an incantation: strategy as credo in a subculture that’s both strange and familiar.

He visits the players in their homes. One mother, a seemingly overbearing stage parent when first glimpsed in the heat of competition, comes into sympathetic focus as her husband describes the horrendous childhood illness that took their son’s sight. Another boy, whose visual impairment is partial, is determined not to be treated differently from the sighted.

As with many stories about children involved in a competitive activity, “Algorithms” is partly a portrait of grown-up hopes channeled through kids. (But where are the girls?) The adult at the center of the film, Charudatta Jadhav, became a chess whiz after losing his vision as a teenager. He’d make a compelling documentary subject by himself. As advisor to the up-and-comers, he’s quietly philosophical. His pep talks — and his disappointments — are never sugarcoated, and they’re all the more affecting for it.

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“Algorithms.”

No MPAA rating.

In English, Hindi, Tamil and Odiya with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino.


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