If you've ever thought you were born under a lucky star, you ain't seen nothing 'til you've seen Intacto.
Some people have all the luck; we all know that. But in Intacto, there are people truly gifted with extraordinary luck--and the ability to take it away from others. You know who they are: the man who's the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash, the woman whose entire family dies in a car accident while she makes it out alive. Then there's Sam (Max Von Sydow), a concentration camp survivor and casino owner in Tenerife, who's considered by those in the know to be the luckiest man in the world. When you're on top, though, people will always try to knock you down, so a mysterious underground circuit of high-stakes gambling--with houses, cars and even fingers as the booty--exists for the sole purpose of finding a worthy challenger for the title. Of course, it's not poker they're playing--their games are even more up to chance than cards or dice. In one, the contestants are blindfolded and their hands bound before they take off on a high-speed race through a dense forest. Whoever makes it through without running full-bore into a tree trunk wins. As the games progress, the winners move on to higher and higher stakes until, ultimately, they're wagering the most valuable commodity of all--their own lives.
Intacto tracks this elaborate underground by following the moves of its four main characters, all nobly--if rather somberly--played by a very talented cast. Sam waits deep in the concrete bowels of his desert casino for the next challenger to be found by Frederico (Eusebio Poncela), once Sam's protégé until Sam stole his luck away and who now bribes insurance investigators to get the names of potentially lucky people. In this way, Frederico discovers Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a thief who survives a plane crash whom Frederico decides to train for the ultimate battle. Tomas is, unfortunately, not so lucky when it comes to evading the law, and detective Sara (Monica Lopez) stays on his tail. It helps that she also has access to the elaborate games of chance, having survived a car crash that killed her husband and daughter.
If you've seen David Cronenberg's Crash, you know how a film can be simultaneously repulsive and attractive--largely because of its razor-sharp insight into a dark part of human nature. Intacto is cut from much the same cloth, and it's interesting that director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's bio includes mention of his witnessing at age 9 the horrifying aftermath of a massive plane crash--his film bears all the visual marks of a child's gothic nightmare seen with the telescopic distance of adulthood. Unfortunately, this film is also a bit of a one-trick pony. A complex plot and intriguing premise make the story compelling--if a little confusing--from start to finish, but the lucky versus unlucky battle wears a bit thin, as does the unrelenting darkness of the cinematography and the unapologetic cruelty of the high-stakes underground contests.
Haunting and original, Intacto is a microscopic exploration of human nature; problem is, it's not easy to watch humanity roll over and scratch its dark, sweaty underbelly, and that's exactly what Intacto asks viewers to do. [Editor's Note: Intacto is in Spanish and English with English subtitles.]