This unusual Swiss movie was the surprise winner of the 1985 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The story is set in Geneva in 1983 during the World Chess Championship. The two players are Akiva Liebskind (Michel Piccoli), a 52-year-old Soviet master who comes to the competition with an inflated ego and an ailing heart, and Pavius Fromm (Alexander Arbatt), an unpredictable 35-year-old Soviet dissident who fled to the West five years ago and cannot wait to make Russia look bad.
Before the competition even begins, Fromm is obsessed with creating the right conditions for victory: he has the soundproofing fixed on stage where they will play; the chess pieces are made heavier; and more light is arranged. The press showers him with questions. Liebskind maintains a low profile.
In the first game, Fromm's tardiness bothers the Russian master. In a later match, the dissident is troubled by a psychic who is placed in the audience by Liebskind's right-hand man to interrupt Fromm's concentration. As the games continue in seesaw fashion, both men wilt under the pressure. The Russian takes a sailboat to the auditorium rather than a limousine and then resumes an old smoking habit. Fromm becomes paranoid and, believing his room is bugged, moves to another hotel.
Writer and director Richard Dembo creates a very suspenseful drama out of this situation. He elicits uniformly top-drawer performances from all the cast from the two chess opponents to the members of their entourages. Since a loss would be an embarrassment for Russia, Liebskind's assistant comes up with a scheme to derail Fromm: they bring his wife Marina (Liv Ullmann) from behind the Iron Curtain to see him. Believing she wanted to divorce him, the young Turk is shocked to learn that she has been institutionalized for mental depression. A torrent of mixed emotions pour down on Fromm's consciousness. At the same time, Liebskind's struggle to win the championship becomes a race against the faltering beat of his heart.
Dangerous Moves is a mind-engrossing film that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the cerebral sport of chess. Further, Dembo makes it emphatically clear that it is not moves on a chessboard but personal politics which determine the players' destinies.