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With: Max Von Sydow, Eusebio Poncela, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Mónica López, Antonio Dechent, Guillermo Toledo, Alber Ponte, Andrea San Vicente
Written by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Andrés M. Koppel
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and brief nudity
Language: Spanish, English with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 11/06/2001

Intacto (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fortune Tellers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's Intacto shows how a person's luck can be given or taken freely, as easily as a handshake. In fact, according to the Intacto world, certain gamblers who play high-stakes games actually absorb luck from those around them, almost like black holes sucking in light. The brilliance of the picture lies in the way it carefully lets information loose a little at a time, so that we're drawn into this world and captivated by it -- until we finally understand everything only at the very end.

The film opens with a strange game. A large, angular man, Samuel Berg (Max Von Sydow), sits in a windowless room, his head covered with a black cloth. A challenger enters and is handed a revolver containing five bullets and one empty chamber. He fires at Berg, and -- click! Then it's Berg's turn. He takes the gun, fires, and the challenger's corpse is hauled out of the room on a plastic tarp. Games like this take place all the time in the Intacto world, but only members of an elite circle know about them.

One such player is Federico (Eusebio Poncela), who once worked for a casino, stealing luck from big winners. But Federico's mentor Berg, who survived the Nazi death camps, steals the "gift" away, making Federico normal. Years later, Federico works for an insurance company and learns of a bank robber, Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who was the only survivor of a horrendous plane crash. After guessing that Tomas has "the touch" -- that he sucked all the luck away from everyone else on the plane -- Federico offers Tomas a deal, hoping the two can make some serious money by playing the various games. The games range from a simple one in which contestants bet that a flying bug will land on their heads, to the movie's centerpiece: a horrifying game in which contestants run full speed, blindfolded and with hands bound, through the woods. The last one to avoid smashing into a tree wins. Intacto rounds out its story with a subplot involving a police detective, Sara (Monica Lopez), who is on Tomas' trail. We learn that she also has the touch -- she once sucked her family's luck away, killing them all in a car crash.

Clearly, writer-director Fresnadillo, who makes his feature debut here, intends the action to be some kind of metaphor for human trust or love or something, with a little Holocaust lore thrown in for good measure. But that's a bunch of hooey, and, frankly, it undermines the film's potency. Fortunately, Fresnadillo's precisely created gambling world and his cleverly unfolding story have enough allure to draw the audience in without forcing viewers to think too much. In fact, Intacto plays a little like some other recent Spanish horror/thrillers, Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone and Alejandro Amenábar's Open Your Eyes, for example. Both those movies managed to seamlessly weave their particular social issues into the fabric of the atmosphere and story. Intacto doesn't fare quite as well in that department, but it's a fine start, and a highly entertaining film.

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