Though it is ostensibly about chess and the teenagers who play it, Dellamaggiore also gets some poignant detail about the immigrant experience into her film. It's not surprising that immigrants love their children and want them to have better lives. In fact, such a sentiment is self-evident and has been represented in dozens of films and documentaries. It is so self-evident that to see it even second-hand is to be reinvigorated with patriotic feeling, far more than any rally featuring ugly hats and a discolored demagogue. Alexis' otherwise stoic parents cannot help but melt when they get good news about their progeny, good news that means he's one step closer to achieving a better life. Knowing that the irrepressible Pobo, who is so charismatic that he might've done alright anywhere in the world, will pursue his dreams and undoubtedly succeed here rekindles hope for future generations.
The chess coach, Elizabeth Vicary, loves the game because it allows her to teach uncertainty to the kids. The life of the working poor comes packed with uncertainty, but under Ms. Vicary's tutelage, chess itself is one of several ways to make things a little more predictable. A scholarship can cover the financial questions that Alexis has about post-secondary education, questions his parents assure him will be satisfactorily answered, but, wise beyond his years, he doesn't want them to have nothing for his sake. Mortgage-backed securities and CDO's put that future at risk, as the recession threatens to cut the potential lifeline of the chess program. Dellamaggiore is showing the ripples as they move out from the devastating center, demonstrating the connections between the macro and the micro and how the actions of huge institutions impact something as granular as what a child does after school.
Brooklyn Castle is a documentary begging for a feature adaptation. A new teacher enters a rowdy classroom in a poor school district, and tells her diverse cast of students that they can escape the cycle of poverty by... and then she puts a chess piece on her desk, probably the queen. There's maybe a record scratch, but it's actually a student in class with a record player, because kids love that meta stuff. Dellamaggiore's film has a Bobby Fischer in Dangerous Minds surface level appeal, but jettisons all the disrespectful cliches around teacher-as-savior precursors. The tremendous appeal of Brooklyn Castle doesn't come from dramatic rescue or poverty porn, but simply from watching bright kids excel at a thing they're good at, no Michelle Pfeiffer-type necessary. Its subjects revitalize a country as surely as watching them revitalizes the viewer. A-