The Player

John Appel

The Netherlands, 2009, 85 min.

SYNOPSIS: The film is a son’s personal quest to find his father and an in-depth investigation into the soul of a true gambler: a search for the universal tragedy inherent in chronic risk-taking and the real-life contrast between tension and ecstasy on the one hand, and pain and loneliness on the other. The director focuses on three gamblers: a bookie, a poker player and a rouletteaddicted criminal who know all about winning and losing. In this way, he delves artistically into the mysterious mind of his father, who was not just a gambler, but a player of life too.

“Upon zero, upon zero! Again upon zero! Stake as much as ever you can…We shall not miss them, so stake twenty pieces at a time… … I know perfectly well what I am doing.” 1)Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Gambler, Dover Publications, Inc, New York, p. 60.

The Player begins with a letter Appel received from his father while living in Amsterdam as a student. His father tells him he has found just the thing for winning at roulette. Non-players know fine well that such a thing does not exist; but isn’t every gambler secretly searching for the golden formula?

In The Player, Appel portrays three gamblers: the Bookmaker, the Swindler and the Poker Player, and interweaves their stories with his father’s. Initially a playful dad, always full of tricks, he becomes an incessant gambler, risking his car, his business, and eventually his fortune, and losing it all. The three interviewees are similarly fixated by their ‘jobs’.

Of course, an obvious frame of reference for this film is Dostoyevsky’s famous classic The Gambler (1866), and there are clearly parallels between the two. Both are ensemble plays in which various characters display different aspects of the player/gambler persona. In Appel Snr’s story, characteristics of all three of the interviewees are discernable. He shares the sense of humour and bravado of the Bookmaker, who always has a joke or a funny anecdote up his sleeve. We see attempted deception by the Swindler, who admits that money easily made is also money easily spent. In the Poker Player, we see the love of the casino, which finally ruined him – and a fitting description of the casino as a timeless place in a void, cut off from the rest of the world.

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References   [ + ]

1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Gambler, Dover Publications, Inc, New York, p. 60.