- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Luck, to first-time director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, isn't just a roll of the dice, but a gift that can be wielded like a sword or transferred with a gentle caress.
The Spanish director's "Intacto" imagines a version of reality in which luck can be used, abused and taken away by touch. Mr. Fresnadillo's characters include a casino operator so lucky he willingly plays Russian roulette with five bullets in the chamber and wins every time.
Buoyed by a penetrating score, "Intacto" probes what it means to be lucky in an often cruel world. While it tickles us with its magic realism, we never learn enough about its characters, except the casino operator, played by the veteran actor Max von Sydow.
"Intacto" insists that the lucky pay a price for their rewards. Each harbors guilt that his luck comes at the suffering of others.
The film revolves around Sam (Mr. von Sydow), whose gambling business sits in the middle of a barren lava field. Gamblers come and go, a few partaking in Sam's gun gambit with deadly results.
Sam is a "god of chance," as the film's production notes describe, a master of making things go his way. He numbly accepts all challengers, but none can touch his lucky streak, which began as a child when he survived a Nazi concentration camp.
Sam's right-hand man at the casino, Federico (Eusebio Poncela), also shares a measure of good luck. When the two disagree over how to run the business, however, Federico is tossed out of the casino and stripped of his lucky touch by an angered Sam.
Fast-forward to seven years later, and Federico is an insurance agent who hasn't forgotten Sam's rebuke. He turns to Tomas, the sole survivor of an airplane crash and therefore a deeply lucky man. Federico sees Tomas as someone whose luck is so great he could survive Sam's game of roulette.
Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is far from an angel of mercy. He robs banks, and a police officer with her own struggles with luck is hot on his criminal trail as Federico prepares him to confront Sam.
The various plot threads eventually weave together into a knotty, if conventional, conclusion at the casino.
"Intacto" gives us a number of deviously constructed set pieces. A blindfolded man races across a busy highway, gambling that his luck will see him to the other side. A group of lucky people dash through a heavily wooded forest blindfolded, with only enough good fortune to keep them from smacking face first into the next tree which makes for a visual not soon to be forgotten.
Our interest always returns to Sam, a most compelling construct who oversees his kingdom with a mixture of fatigue and pomposity. Stooped over by decades of survivor's guilt, Sam dispatches contenders to his throne with only a twinkle of satisfaction.
He does not like to be questioned, but he also feels obliged to flaunt his powers. Mr. van Sydow radiates lumbering menace; the part is perfectly tailored to his actorly aura.
That said, we never get too deep under Federico's skin, though Mr. Poncela's stark countenance does all it can for the part. We imagine the bond between Sam and Federico to be deeply felt, but the film affords us little tangible proof.
The dramatic visuals walls awash in gruesome reds, the raw moments when characters' luck runs dry lend the narrative an unexpected kick. A combination of flat medium and tight overhead shots captures a truly creepy casino, a dive where a neon sign blinks "good luck" as if the players had any say in the matter.
Shot partly in the Canary Islands and Madrid, "Intacto" jabs at our commonly held beliefs concerning luck, but Mr. Fresnadillo doesn't make a tangible connection between his otherwordly themes and the world around us. Still, it's an invigorating mental puzzle, told with a visual panache that gambles on our attention and comes up, more often than not, a winner.

TITLE: "Intacto"
RATING: R (Coarse language, violence and one brief nude scene)
CREDITS: Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Screenplay by Mr. Fresnadillo and Andres M. Koppel. Spanish with English subtitles.
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

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