Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen was brimming with confidence this week, just before a documentary about his life was premiering in Norway. It’s had good reviews and the other young man set to challenge Carlsen in the next upcoming World Championships has already taken the time to see it.
“He came with his whole team,” the director of the documentary simply called Magnus told news bureau NTB. Benjamin Ree was referring to how Russian chess star Sergey Karjakin arrived at the Moscow International Film Festival where Magnus was being shown. “It was in the cards that they would study the opponent and try to find out something new about him,” Ree chuckled to NTB.
Both Ree and his documentary were enjoying success even before the official public premiere in Oslo on Friday. Interest in the film is high, since it’s already been sold for distribution in 56 countries. It’s been shown at seven film festivals and critics have called it an “intimate picture of a genius.” The documentary explores how Carlsen has succeeded in combining his extraordinary skills and intelligence with ordinary family life. It’s his family, not least his father Henrik, who has kept him grounded for years.
It hasn’t always been easy. The film is also about the challenges of being different, and how difficult it was to be “cool” when playing chess. Earlier reports about the film have already revealed how Carlsen was bullied as a boy, and that he could be lonesome at times. He had his demons, but also stressed that he wanted to have them to himself, because he thought that was the best way to deal with them.
Tapped family film archives
Ree’s documentary builds on a wealth of film and video from Carlsen’s childhood and youth, much of which was shared by his family. Ree based the final version on a total of 50o hours of interviews and unique video material to tell the gripping story of a unique child, often called the “Mozart of chess,” who became World Chess Champion at the age of 22.
The young Carlsen had set a goal for himself in 2004, nine years before achieving it, to become world champion. That led to extensive travel, personal sacrifices and constant challenges, but he was backed by a supportive and close family. Some critics were impressed how even though film audiences know that Carlsen became the youngest person to ever win the chess championship, it’s still a tense and thrilling film as his story unfolds.
See the trailer here.
“We get closer to Magnus Carlsen than we ever have,” Ree has said. “I think he opened himself up to me, maybe because it was just me and my camera, not a huge apparatus with lots of cameras and sound and light technicians.” A few critics commented that the documentary still doesn’t quite “get under Carlsen’s skin,” but there are memorable scenes and insight, like how Carlsen often relaxes before a major tournament by reading Donald Duck comic books, which have always been unusually popular in Norway among boys and men of all ages.
Carlsen’s international fame has perhaps spread because “Magnus represents a modern icon who puts the personal aspect into chess,” Ree told NTB. He noted that Carlsen also chose a different path than many other chess players characterized by structure and discipline. Carlsen instead had a creative and intuitive approach to chess. While everyone else huddled with computers to prepare for a match, Carlsen relied on the human aspect.
‘I will win’
Carlsen has already defended his title once and is up against Karjakin in November. In a meeting with Norwegian reporters this week, Carlsen was full of confidence. “I totally agree with those who say I’m the favorite,” Carlsen said. “I have won all tournaments this year except for one, where I was number two.”
He cautioned, though, that none of the other tournaments will count when November rolls around. “A World Championship match lives it own life,” he said. He acknowledged that he could be taken in the opening, that he could apply too much pressure. “He (Karjakin) can be more aggressive than expected,” Carlsen said. “I think I’m better than him, but I can’t rest on that.”
Before that comes the Chess Olympics in Baku next week, where he’ll play on a team with his good friend Jon Ludvig Hammer, Aryan Tari and Frode Urkedal. Carlsen didn’t do well in the last Chess Olympics in Tromsø and didn’t expect Norway to prevail this time either. When it comes to the World Championships, though, he told newspaper Aftenposten that “if I’m on top and top-prepared, I will win regardless.”