The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 2001

The premise of Intacto is simple. Luck is not a mere matter of chance, but a quantity inherent in human beings, like blood or stupidity; and, as vampires do with blood and lovers with stupidity, certain people are able to take the luck of others and use it for their own purposes. The victims are called captives; their photographs and their stolen luck form the stakes in gambling games played between those who have the stealing talent.

One such is Federico (Eusebio Poncela), who has spent seven years looking for someone to be his protégé. He has a contact in the insurance business who points him towards likely candidates; by this means Federico is brought into contact with Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia). Tomás is the sole survivor of an air crash which has killed more than two hundred others; he is also a criminal, with policewoman Sara (Mónica López) in pursuit. Federico offers Tomás a means of escape and disappearance, and inducts him into the strange subculture of those who can steal people's luck.

It is the stages of this induction, more than the rather contrived thriller element resulting from Sara's pursuit, that form the fascination of Intacto. A man blindfolds himself and runs towards Federico through speeding motorway traffic. A group of people, their hair slicked with molasses, sit in the dark waiting for a mantis to alight. Half a dozen captives sit behind a glass wall; each is chosen by one of the talented ones, who then take the captives' luck with a touch, an embrace, a kiss. Later, in the car, Tomás asks what will happen to the girl he chose. "She'll probably die of a cold," replies Federico casually. Tomás and a few others run blindfolded, at full speed, through a forest; the winner, the luckiest, is the one who doesn't collide with a tree.

The winner of that particular game wins the right to play against the greatest of all the luck thieves, who lives beneath a casino in the middle of a desolate, volcanic landscape. He is The Jew, a Holocaust survivor, and the number of his captives runs to whole filing cabinets filled with photographs. The game he plays is Russian roulette with one empty chamber and five bullets; his opponent gets the first shot, and his opponent always loses. The Jew is played by Max Von Sydow, who is allowed to speak English rather than being dubbed over in Spanish, and who delivers a haunting monologue about his childhood experience of the death camp and the beginning of his life's run of luck. Federico was The Jew's protégé, until he tried to leave, whereupon The Jew took from him all the luck he had accumulated. Federico has been grooming Tomás to be lucky enough to take revenge on Federico's behalf, but matters do not turn out quite as planned.

In spite of a sense that she's been shoehorned into the plot (a sense which does not occur while actually viewing Intacto, such is its pace, its atmosphere and the sharpness of its hooks), Sara is in some ways the most interesting character in the film, having lost her husband and child in a car accident. Of course, at the moment of the crash she reached out for them; Sara too is one of the talented, and saved herself from death by unconsciously draining the luck of her loved ones. "You don't deserve your gift," a fellow vampire tells her after her stalking of Tomás has invalidated one of their games.

In view of their shared survivor guilt, it's a pity that Sara and The Jew never get to have a conversation. The Jew is seen mostly in the bare bunker, like a condemned cell, where he meets his opponents; and he meets them wearing a black hood over his head like a man about to be hanged. At the end, the winner runs endlessly across the parched, scrubby landscape; but whether he is running back to the world or fleeing further away, his own fathomless isolation has clearly just begun.


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