Intacto is a film directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and released in the U.S. market in 2001. It is, by turns, a thriller, a drama, an experiment, and a love story - although it is not resolved as any of them.

It's extremely difficult to offer a synopsis of this film without givng away much of its power. The basic premise, which has been revealed by previews and reviews, is this: the story takes place in a world which (may) differ from ours in one critical way. In this world, 'luck' is not the same thing as chance. In this world, a select few people have the ability, or the curse, or the gift, of affecting chance - but not always in the manner they would like. They can affect outcomes by a process which looks, on the surface, like 'stealing' the good luck of other people. The gifted inhabit a noir underworld of wealth, gambling and occasional violence, as they dice with each other and the world for increasingly high stakes. The rules: no money, and no peeking.

The film has a solidly European feel. The scene setting is done with judicious use of sunlight and shadow; even in the brightest shots, the color is somewhat muted in favor of a more general palette of earth tones. Shots of the casino central to the story make it, until the end of the film, resemble a brightly-lit outpost on the lunar surface; the desert around it reduces to a grey and black waste of vacuum. The characters themselves are more guarded than those in American cinema, without being 'mysterious' (with one or two story-driven exceptions). While most of them do not hide anything by choice, the film simply doesn't feel the need to waste time and energy explaining them to you - unless those explanations are critical to the plot. Couple this with the fact that each character has multiple motives and a history, and they begin to resemble people on the street more than the cardboard cutouts that have recently taken over Hollywood's creations.

This does make the film more confusing that perhaps it might need be. This could also be due to the fact that I don't speak Spanish, and was forced to rely on subtitles which did strike me as 'missing' a few critical subtleties. One thing to keep in mind is that the confusion which may settle about you as you watch may be due to a natural tendency on the part of the viewer to attempt to 'pigeonhole' films in order to better set expectations. However, as mentioned earlier, the film will refuse to fit cleanly in any single story type or category, making this process somewhat jarring and pointless.

As far as I can tell, the story is original; the writing is credited to the director and one other, and there is no mention of it being an adaptation. This is a good thing; this is the sort of movie that one can believe sprung nearly full-formed from a fertile imagination and managed to survive the frantic, lethal seconds between its inception and the writer managing to locate a napkin and a pen.

With subdued use of music, and limited expository dialogue, the movie drew me in as I attempted (along with some of the characters) to figure out what was going on. It paid off in the end, as by the film's conclusion the characters themselves have a good idea of what is going on - and only through carefully watching them was I able to come to my own conclusions. I recommend Intacto (Spanish for intact) if you would prefer to think about your films than simply experience them, and if you would rather work to understand characters and stories than be spoon-fed.

Of course, Max von Sydow simply rules. This is a another reason to watch it.

Intacto (2001)

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Country: Spain
Run Time: 108 minutes (U.S. cut, at least)
Language: Spanish, seen on DVD with English subtitles

Of all the films I've watched this year, the one that won't get out of my head is the 2001 Spanish-language debut feature film by 35 year-old Spaniard Juan Carlos Fresnadillo called Intacto. He wrote it along with Andres Koppel. I don't think I've ever seen a film do a better job of turning the ordinary world into a different place; perhaps a place that actually exists and we just overlook it. There are no folks bending over backwards in slow motion to dodge bullets fired by aliens. There are no creatures bursting forth from the chest cavities of the main protagonists. But there is weirdness aplenty and images and concepts that I dare you to remove from your mind after you've seen it.

Have you ever felt lucky? Have you ever felt as if you could win at any game you played, just by the force of some unproven and most likely fraudulent concept called "good fortune"? In this film, there is a King of Luck played by Max von Sydow. You might remember ol' Max as the guy who played chess with Death in Bergman's The Seventh Seal. It's a pretty big deal to get a guy like ol' Max to play a role in your first feature film. There must have been something about the script that he liked.

In this film he plays Sam, a Holocaust survivor who runs a casino out in the middle of a barren lava field. Upstairs, the clients play games of chance for money. Downstairs where ol' Max and his buddies hang out, the stakes are just a little bit higher. His best buddy and his protégé is Federico (played by Eusebio Poncela). Sam gets a bit put out when Federico decides he'd like to venture out on his own, and the understudy gets thrown out of the Great Casino by the God of Luck. The rest of the film is about Federico attempting to find a way to return to the Big Casino in order to overthrow Sam. You wouldn't have to try too hard to pin Biblical allusions all over the storyboard on the wall here, as I'm sure you can see.

Good stories with Biblical allusions are all over the place. That one with the guy bending over backwards in slow motion to avoid alien bullets is a good example. Probably the reason I enjoyed the first episode of that trilogy had a lot to do with that scene and the scene of his removal from the "pod" combined with the overall mystery of the reality of the world in which they found themselves. Once that mystery was fairly clear, the two subsequent episodes have seemed overly didactic and, frankly, just damn silly.

In Intacto the world of the folks who live their lives in the pursuit of luck is feathered with several marvelous images. The impact of these images grow as the game becomes more complex and the wagers on said games become more important. I seriously doubt if there will ever be a second or third episode.

Federico finds an airplane crash survivor named Tomas (played by Leonardo Sbaraglia). In the world of the Lucky, folks who survive major disasters are considered Golden. It is there that one might find a new God of Luck if one were looking for such a creature. Federico takes Tomas under his wing and tries to mold him into one capable of taking on ol' Sam back there in the Big Casino. This involves several competitions run by an underground group of folks whom you firmly believe might just actually exist. (Well, I did. You might not be so gullible as I.) Matters are complicated by the fact that Tomas is wanted for bank robbery, and the lady cop on his case is another one of these people blessed with mystic luck.

This series of competitions that Federico puts his wannabee Luck Gods through is really the best part of the film. One is a blindfolded race across a busy highway. One is a truly bizarre contest where participants' heads are covered in molasses and they await to see on whose pate a fluorescent bug will alight. And my favorite is a blindfolded race through a forest. In this one, let's just say that morning wood would not be something you'd look forward to.

Some critics have dissed this movie for being too pretentious or for being too obvious and overbearing with the overarching metaphor. I say fuck 'em. If you want to see overarching metaphors and pretentious bullshit, go watch the third episode of The Matrix. Intacto is original stuff done in a very original way. In fact, I will bet you that it won't be long until you see a remake by some Hollywood big shot turning this movie into "The next big thing," like The Ring, for instance. In fact, Disney has already bought the rights for just such a remake. Will they just call it "Intact"? That sounds so dreary in light of the wonderful sound of the word, "Intacto."

How about you? Would you like it? I think it's a pretty safe bet that if you liked Memento, you'll at least find Intacto memorable.

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