Offbeat Spanish oddity about fortune and guilt that's high on concept but low on style.

Released in 2001, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 14 Apr 2003 by Craig Eastman
Intacto image

The super-depressed Sam (Max Von Sydow) has a severe case of survivor guilt after escaping the Holocaust. Today he runs a casino in the Canary Islands where he secretly meets with other bearers of good fortune for games of Russian roulette where only one chamber stays empty. Long odds indeed, but he's survived long enough to rack up quite a collection of trophies; photographs of loved ones his opponents have staked as a forfeit. After his adopted son Federico (Eusebio Poncela) announces he wants to leave, Sam steals his fortune by hugging him (this theft of luck is a recurring theme in the film) so that he cannot benefit unlawfully from his gift. Understandably peeved by this vampire-like gesture, Federico sets out to find the Luckiest Man Alive™ so that he might beat Sam at his own game and claim his revenge.

Enter Tomas (Leonard Sbaraglia); a small-time bank robber who has just crash-landed in a field, the only survivor of a massive plane crash. Federico, now working for a life insurance firm with whom the airline deals, entices Tomas into a seedy underground world of luck and danger to assess his fortune and worthiness as a contender for Sam. This is the meat and potatoes of the movie; a series of games where several supposedly fortune-fuelled contenders stake pictures of valuable possessions and even loved ones, all of which they must surrender if they lose. The games range from seeing upon whom a trapped insect will land after being freed from a box, running blindfolded across a busy freeway, and best of all blindfolded and bound contestants running headlong through a forest, spectacularly eliminating themselves via a frankly unavoidable interfacing of head and tree trunk.

Intaco image

It's all very fun to watch, but quite what the point or message of it all is was completely lost on this reviewer. The movie strives to be spectacularly moody and dramatic at times, whilst blackly humorous at others and unfortunately rarely pulls off either. It's certainly a very thoughtful piece, but quite what it's meditating on is a mystery.

There's a woefully under-explored sub-plot about an attractive police woman called Sara (Monica Lopez) who is herself the survivor of a fatal car crash chasing Tomas, and this is something which would have been better explored in favour of chopping some of the more bizarre 'game' segments.

There's little to fault in the acting department, with all of the leads performing quite admirably, it's just that they're all such a bloody sorry lot that one struggles to emphasise with them to any degree. Consequently it becomes very difficult to enjoy a film which is already so grounded in myth and hearsay that it's crying out for an emotional hook for the viewer to sink their teeth into.

Von Sydow is as always exemplary, but unfortunately his Holocaust speech near the end does little to throw light on an interesting but infuriatingly ill-defined character. Quite how he happened upon this film is a mystery, as he's the only English-speaking member of an otherwise entirely Spanish cast, but it's perhaps a relief that someone as engaging as himself is there to keep the audience awake throughout the running time. Special mention too for the cinematography; if there's one thing the movie isn't missing it's beautiful scenery, and a great job is made of capturing the natural beauty of the diverse Spanish landscapes.

Ultimately Intacto is something of a massive missed opportunity. The basic premise is intriguing, and it scores points for originality at least. However, it's marred hugely by under-developed characterisation and a few too many oddball moments that weigh down the unlikeliness of the plot. It has been commented by many reviewers that this will no doubt be subjected to the Hollywood remake machine, and for once I'm looking forward to it. Better luck next time.

Craig Disko sees fit to award Intacto 3 out of 5 Random Boogie Units.

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Cast list:
Max Von Sydow (Sam)
Leonard Sbaraglia (Tomas)
Eusebio Poncela (Federico)