Computer Chess is set in a cheap Californian hotel, around 1980, and revolves around an annual chess tournament for programmers. Or as one character puts it, "the computer plays chess versus other computers.
Visually the movie is bold, idiosyncratic and shot like a low budget eighties documentary. Director Andrew Bujalski and cinematographer Matthias Grunksy used old 1969 Sony video cameras, the resulting footage in hazy tones of black and white. There's also the occasional split screen and overlaying text like an image on an overhead projector.
The cast includes many non-actors some of whom are software developers, who add credence to their lines. Their costume and appearance, nerdy and awkward. They look more like the real deal. Less like Hollywood actors dulled down for comedic effect.
You could be lulled into thinking nothing much is happening beyond the chess tournament. But strange things happen. There is a short sequence of washed-out colour that ends with one character stuck in a repeated loop of movement like a chess piece. There's also an influx of cats, night wanderings down long corridors and a lingering 'mysterious lady' who haunts the hotel lobby.
Also staying at the hotel, touchy feely couples attending a relationship workshop. When the two groups interact it is often uncomfortably funny, as in one programmer's re-birthing and another young reserved programmer's dalliances with an older swinging couple.
Initially Computer Chess looks like a dry documentary from the digital dawn about the semblances of artificial intelligence. But it's weird and funny, with a lot of strange things happening beneath the surface.