Movie review, 'Intacto'

MoviesEntertainmentSpainCasino and Gambling IndustryMax von SydowThe Holocaust (1934-1945)Death

The Spanish film "Intacto," with its mix of stylish action and meta-musings, provides plenty of confusing, satisfying surprises, though it could have used more tightness and punch.

Still, one must admire this first feature from Spain's Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, nominated for an Oscar for best short subject in 1996 for "Esposados." He has fashioned a clever, original thriller that bows to no genre.

Max von Sydow plays Samuel Berg, the mysterious ruler of a desert casino. But the pink neon sign wishing customers luck as they step off the elevator is about the only conventional thing in his red-hued, swanky lair. The film posits luck as a commodity that can be lifted, gifted or sucked from others with a hug or a kiss. And at the start of the film, Sam "extracts" luck from his disloyal protege Federico (Eusebio Poncela) with a simple touch.

Federico takes the sole survivor of a plane crash -- obviously a very lucky fellow -- under his mercenary wing, believing that Tomas, on the lam from the law for robbing a bank, has the necessary luck to make it on the bizarre gaming circuit. What follows is an often convoluted, completely improbable but fascinating foray into a world where bettors test their luck by allowing themselves to be blindfolded and then engaging in creepy contests like running full force thorough a forest of trees or playing Russian roulette. What is at stake is never money -- bids escalate from homes and horses to people in the gamblers' lives.

While it is clear that Federico is bent on revenge and is grooming Tomas for a showdown with Samuel, Federico's nemesis, a subplot involving a cop, Sara (Monica Lopez), is less cohesive. Sara, who is pursuing Tomas, bears the scars from the car crash that she survived, but that killed her husband and child. Like her elusive target, Sara has apparently supernatural luck -- a gift that her husband and child did not share. Lopez's performance as the guilt-ridden young woman who believes she sucked up her family's luck right before the accident is riveting. Still, Sara remains an enigma, as does much of the film itself.

This disturbingly twisted, high-concept plot has futuristic overtones and intellectual pretensions but never gels into anything sinister or sardonic. The characters are one-dimensional, and although Fresnadillo has a flair for depicting a shadowy underworld, the crosscutting of story lines and time frames makes the plot difficult to follow. The always watchable von Sydow has a memorable monologue at the end of the film that reveals the source of Samuel's belief in his good fortune. But it is far too pat, not to mention uncomfortable and perhaps even a bit insensitive, for the film to invoke the Holocaust in a meditation about dumb luck.

"Intacto" is yet another example of the vibrancy of contemporary Spanish cinema, which, unlike the recycling factory that Hollywood has become, is brimming with such fierce originality that even its disappointments are worth seeing.

2 1/2 stars (out of 4) "Intacto"
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo; written by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Andr¿M. Koppel; photographed by Xavi Gimenez; edited by Nacho Ruiz Capillas; production design by Cesar Macarron; music by Lucio Godoy; produced by Fernando Bovaira, Enrique Lopez Lavigne. A Lions Gate release; opens Friday, Feb. 21. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1:48. MPAA rating: R (language, some violence and brief nudity).
Tomas -- Leonardo Sbaraglia
Federico -- Eusebio Poncela
Sara -- Monica Lopez
Alejandro -- Antonio Dechent
Samuel -- Max von Sydow

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading