Spain, 2001. Rated R. 108 minutes.
Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eusebio Poncela, Mónica López, Antonio Dechent, Max
Von Sydow, Guillermo Toledo, Alber Ponte, Andrea San Vicente
|Grade: B||Review by Jeff Vorndam|
hat does it mean when we wish someone luck, or we say a person has luck? If it's an attribute, like health, why can't it be measured? Does it even exist? Intact, a speculative thriller from writer-director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, posits a world in which luck is tangible and measurable. But it's not necessarily desirable.
Intact is populated with individuals who possess the gift to accrete luck simply by laying hands on another person and sucking the luck right out of them. The film reveals other ways of siphoning luck, which I won't spoil, and they all involve the transference of fortune as if it were a commodity. Those rich in luck are impossible to beat in games of chance, and it's fitting that the character described as the God of Chance (Max Von Sydow), dwells in a remote castle-casino, where the punters pilgrimage to try their odds against him.
The story is set in motion when Samuel, the aforementioned God of Chance, strips his protégé Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia) of his luck. Bereft of his powers, Tomás vows revenge and seeks a protégé of his own whom he can pit against Samuel. One candidate must pass a test: run blindfolded across a busy highway. If he has talent, that is, if his luck is great, he will make it through unscathed. His luck is not so good though, and he pays a punishing price. Gambling is naturally suspenseful, and Fresnadillo ups the ante by introducing the element of immediate physical danger into each contest. The greatest possible demonstration of luck is to overcome the greatest possible risk. Increasingly, the stakes in Intact are life and death.
Tomás finds his champion in Féderico (Eusebio Poncela), a bank robber who is the miraculous sole survivor of a plane crash. Féderico has walked out of the hospital and out of the grasp of the cop (Monica Lopez) who has been chasing him (and who has some luck issues of her own). Tomás takes Féderico under his wing and the two make their rounds in a strange underworld circuit of luck gamblers. The most fascinating aspect of Intact is discovering the rules and terrain of this underworld. I wish there were more scenes that dwelt on the hierarchy of the players, the different ways luck can be transferred, and the history of the game. As it is, we're only told what we need to know to keep the story going, as Féderico defeats opponents en route to a high stakes showdown with a lucky bullfighter named Alejandro (Antonio Dechent).
Luck dogs those with the gift as much as it rewards them. Like gambling addicts, the luck players are seldom happy. The nature of their existence is to regularly engage in highly stressful contests that result in pain or even death for the loser. The ultimate game of this type is, of course, Russian roulette. The game is skewed so that it is even riskier, with five of the six chambers containing a bullet. This form of Russian roulette is the game one must play to defeat Samuel, the God of Chance. Max Von Sydow, who played chess with Death in The Seventh Seal, is a casting coup, and his sad tale of the origin of his powers puts a new spin on luck; it is survival, but also constant struggle, an unending battle that can only end one way.
With its noir fatalism and clever premise, Intact recalls last year's alterna-hit Memento. It doesn't possess the depth of feeling that Memento did, however. Intact's subplot with the car-crash surviving cop doesn't resonate the way Leonard Shelby's self-denial did. I hate to suggest such a thing, but it's probable that a Hollywood remake would strengthen the love story between Féderico and the girl he left behind. Hollywood remakes tend to demystify their foreign antecedents, but perhaps it's the mystery that holds Intact back. In the end, the film is a curiosity, a detour into weirdsville. One emerges intact, unharmed, untouched.
© October 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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