Intacto is a film directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and released in the U.S. market in 2001. It is, by turns, a thriller, a drama, an experiment, and a love story - although it is not resolved as any of them.

It's extremely difficult to offer a synopsis of this film without givng away much of its power. The basic premise, which has been revealed by previews and reviews, is this: the story takes place in a world which (may) differ from ours in one critical way. In this world, 'luck' is not the same thing as chance. In this world, a select few people have the ability, or the curse, or the gift, of affecting chance - but not always in the manner they would like. They can affect outcomes by a process which looks, on the surface, like 'stealing' the good luck of other people. The gifted inhabit a noir underworld of wealth, gambling and occasional violence, as they dice with each other and the world for increasingly high stakes. The rules: no money, and no peeking.

The film has a solidly European feel. The scene setting is done with judicious use of sunlight and shadow; even in the brightest shots, the color is somewhat muted in favor of a more general palette of earth tones. Shots of the casino central to the story make it, until the end of the film, resemble a brightly-lit outpost on the lunar surface; the desert around it reduces to a grey and black waste of vacuum. The characters themselves are more guarded than those in American cinema, without being 'mysterious' (with one or two story-driven exceptions). While most of them do not hide anything by choice, the film simply doesn't feel the need to waste time and energy explaining them to you - unless those explanations are critical to the plot. Couple this with the fact that each character has multiple motives and a history, and they begin to resemble people on the street more than the cardboard cutouts that have recently taken over Hollywood's creations.

This does make the film more confusing that perhaps it might need be. This could also be due to the fact that I don't speak Spanish, and was forced to rely on subtitles which did strike me as 'missing' a few critical subtleties. One thing to keep in mind is that the confusion which may settle about you as you watch may be due to a natural tendency on the part of the viewer to attempt to 'pigeonhole' films in order to better set expectations. However, as mentioned earlier, the film will refuse to fit cleanly in any single story type or category, making this process somewhat jarring and pointless.

As far as I can tell, the story is original; the writing is credited to the director and one other, and there is no mention of it being an adaptation. This is a good thing; this is the sort of movie that one can believe sprung nearly full-formed from a fertile imagination and managed to survive the frantic, lethal seconds between its inception and the writer managing to locate a napkin and a pen.

With subdued use of music, and limited expository dialogue, the movie drew me in as I attempted (along with some of the characters) to figure out what was going on. It paid off in the end, as by the film's conclusion the characters themselves have a good idea of what is going on - and only through carefully watching them was I able to come to my own conclusions. I recommend Intacto (Spanish for intact) if you would prefer to think about your films than simply experience them, and if you would rather work to understand characters and stories than be spoon-fed.

Of course, Max von Sydow simply rules. This is a another reason to watch it.

Intacto (2001)

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Country: Spain
Run Time: 108 minutes (U.S. cut, at least)
Language: Spanish, seen on DVD with English subtitles