There are few pleasures in life as great as walking into a film completely unaware as to its plot or purpose and walking out thrilled with the results. Okay, that’s clearly an exaggeration, but there are very few that don’t involve knee pads, whip cream, and tongue depressors.
But I digress.
Somewhere in the Spanish desert sits Uncanca, a casino filled with sweat, alcohol, and desperation. An old man on a Roulette winning streak triggers a call to the casino’s cooler, Federico (Eusebio Poncela). With a simple touch of his hand, the gambler’s luck runs out and he loses his final bet to the house. Federico leaves the casino floor and ventures into the basement where he meets a man wearing a black velvet bag over his head. If you predicted Max von Sydow was the man beneath the hood you would be correct and incredibly lucky… unlike Federico, who tries to leave Samuel’s employ and in return is given a brief hug and even briefer parting words.
“Your gift I discovered, and your gift I take away.”
Seven years later and Federico is a man looking for luck. More specifically, he’s searching for people who have the gift of luck, and he thinks he’s found his man in Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia). The sole survivor of a devastating plane crash, Tomás has his own secrets and soon the two are on a journey into a world where luck can be stolen through contact and kisses and captured in a single photograph, and games of chance are played with loaded revolvers, blindfolded runs through the woods, and lightning bug/preying mantis hybrids. But others are seeking Tomás as well including Sara (Mónica López), a cop with scars both physical and emotional, and an ex-girlfriend whose life he may have saved.
Intacto is a mental thriller of sorts about luck, good and bad, and the people who attract it, but it’s also a fairly unconventional rumination on the power of love. It’s both of these and more. And less. It’s a film unlike most in that it takes a giant leap with the viewers, for the viewers, with a story that risks confusion even as it enlightens, that risks boredom even as it stimulates the mind. Some viewers are almost guaranteed to be frustrated with the pacing, but patience will be rewarded with a tale that puts humanity’s best and worst elements against each other in subtle and mysterious ways.
That subtlety does cause some minor issues though in that for every piece that falls into place and can be made sense of (to an acceptable degree), another hangs there unanswered and unexplained. Because seriously… if your luck is unbreakable why aren’t you buying lottery tickets or betting on the horses instead of wagering digits for the chance to be head-humped by a giant flying insect?
All of the actors do a fine job of selling the concept as an unquestioned reality, and it starts with Poncela’s tortured and desperate Federico. He’s a man who had the gift, or curse, of luck and lost it. He knows the cost to himself and others but stumbles forward anyway. López brings drive and pathos to her policewoman on a quest, and while Sbaraglia’s Tomás is unavoidably morally corrupt he may actually hold the key to everyone’s fate.
Director and co-writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo stepped into the spotlight with a successful sequel to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2007, but his talent and ambitious imagination was already on display six years earlier with his feature debut. The film moves with an ethereal quality at times, slow and dream-like, before bursting to life with short pops of action or scenes that fascinate with their darkly odd nature.
Fresnadillo has an intriguing sounding horror film, The Intruders, due later this year to be followed with the recently announced reboot of The Crow. If that means he’s patterning his career on a “one for me, one for them” concept then so be it. If he can continue making competent films for the studios and thought provoking and engaging curiosities for the rest of us then we viewers should consider ourselves lucky.
The Upside: Original concept; slowly doles out the mystery; Max von Sydow always classes up a joint; dream-like quality; thought provoking
The Downside: May leave a bit too much unclear; slow and methodical pacing; just buy a goddamn lottery ticket!
Buy Intacto on DVD from Amazon