Film

Intacto (2001)

Nicholas Schager

Max von Sydow paints an empathetic portrait of the terrible consequences of misused power.


Intacto

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Cast: Max von Sydow, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eusebio Poncela, Mónica López
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2002-12-13

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's semi-supernatural thriller Intacto invites viewers to ponder the tantalizing question, "What would you do if you could enhance your luck?" While my own inclination can be summed up in one word -- "Lotto!" -- Fresnadillo offers a more disturbing vision of what it means to possess and wield such power. Although occasionally clumsy and unnecessarily convoluted, this starkly beautiful Spanish film signals the arrival of an exciting new directorial talent.

Intacto's premise hinges on the conceit that luck is a tangible commodity that certain individuals can absorb from others through physical contact. The few who recognize their ability see it as a tool for acquiring power and wealth. They've organized themselves into an underground gambling cult in which the stakes are outrageously exorbitant (houses, cars, one's own fingers) and the matches require lots of luck and little skill. The only drawback to their vampiric gift is that luck is inversely proportional -- the more someone has, the less those around him have. Thus, the blessed are also the cursed, since their own good fortune dooms their friends and loved ones to adverse fates.

Sitting atop the luck food chain is a grizzled sage named Sam (Max von Sydow, in a heartrending performance), who operates a casino nestled deep in a lava-encrusted field. A Holocaust survivor, Sam is renowned as the "God of Chance," and spends his days and nights alone in a gray steel basement chamber playing Russian roulette against the luckiest people on the planet. He has not lost a match in 30 years, and the black hood he wears during these contests casts him as a harbinger of death. It also represents Sam's attempts to shield himself from the rest of the world; the only person allowed to see him is Federico (Eusebio Poncela), a man who years ago survived a fatal earthquake, and became Sam's apprentice and link to the outside.

As the film begins, the once loyal Federico has lost his taste for Sam's world of enchanted larceny, and tries to leave his mentor. In response, Sam robs Federico of his luck, casting him out of his gambling paradise, beaten, bruised, and bereft of his gift. Determined to exact revenge, Federico spends the next 7 years searching for a man with enough luck to challenge Sam at his own fatal game, although the many protégés he cultivates -- through such tests as running across a busy highway blindfolded -- are woefully inadequate.

That is, until an insurance investigator's tip leads Federico to Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the sole survivor of a horrendous plane crash, whom Federico immediately recognizes as his diamond in the rough. The only problem with this new recruit is that, the night of the accident, Tomás was fleeing authorities after having knocked over a bank, and is being held captive in a local hospital by a gritty female cop named Sara (Mónica López) who -- having emerged unscathed from the car crash that killed her husband and infant child -- also possesses a sizeable batch of good luck.

Federico and his new pupil journey into the seedy gaming heart of an urban wasteland, engaging in a series of dangerous competitions that, they hope, will allow them to accumulate enough wealth and luck to eventually challenge Sam. It is during these contests between the city's handful of lucky bettors that Intacto achieves an exhilaratingly ominous pulse, climaxing during a race in which blindfolded participants run through a dense forest, slamming into trees one by one. Fresnadillo's camera is alternately sweeping and pensively static; dissolves here create a deliberate tempo that, ironically, increases the film's feeling of unpredictability.

Tomás and Federico form an alliance -- Tomás enticed by the promise of wealth, Federico bent on vengeance -- that takes them deeper and deeper into a community of super-powered gaming addicts. Faced with the prospect that his luck may have a direct bearing on the girlfriend he misses, Tomás comes to embody the fundamental question at the center of Intacto: Would you want to be the luckiest man in the world if it meant being alone forever? And if that's the price, what is luck, anyway?

Unfortunately, a number of expositional and transitional scenes -- many focused on Sara's attempts to come to grips with her survivor's guilt -- get bogged down in emphasizing the very thematic and narrative points already made abundantly clear through Tomás and Federico. In fact, Sara's role in the rather predictable finale underlines that she's a means to tie up the film's metaphysical ruminations on chance and destiny.

Even if the writing (courtesy of director Fresnadillo and Andrés M. Koppel) sometimes stumbles, however, the film benefits from the presence of Von Sydow. Now into his 70s, he paints an empathetic portrait of the terrible consequences of misused power. His seemingly casual gestures and weathered face reveal as much about Sam's torment as anything the character says. In the film's penultimate moments, when he recounts horrific memories from a concentration camp, one gets a palpable sense of the toll this lifetime of corruption, greed, and regret has taken on Sam. His regal narration of his survival at the (unintended) expense of others elevates Intacto from genre exercise to thought-provoking parable.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.