Kalmykia. One of the smallest Russian republics. With a population of 300 000 and covering almost 30 000 square miles. Thousands of miles of steppe. From the steppes, like mirages, rise little sand-covered villages and the only city – Elista, the republic’s capital.
Between the edge of the steppe and Elista, by Communist-era tower blocks built from concrete slabs, stands a group of houses straight out of a dream of ideal American suburbs. In front of them: lush green lawns, and a worker painting the curb with snow-white paint. Welcome to Chess City.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the first – and so far only – leader of the Republic of Kalmykia. Thanks to him, every child in Kalmykia plays chess. Thanks to him Chess City was built on the steppe. Not only because of his ideas, but also – as he says – thanks to his money. In accordance with the chess principle, “There is only one king. The king is the most important piece.”
Planete Kirsan is not a typical, political documentary, trying to reveal the truth about the activities of a charismatic president, nor is it a road movie, telling the story of the transformation of a young boy into a man. It’s an attempt to examine the steppe planet in all its complexity, pointing up both its absurdity and its poetic beauty. Kalmykia is the image of a totalitarian reality in microscale, but it’s also a place where questions can be asked about order of the universe. The characters move through its space like chess pieces; each of them have their own significance and function. On the other hand, each of them can only move in strictly defined ways. Are any changes possible in such a defined world. Is a revolution possible in chess?
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