Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Intacto



aka Intact : Spain 2001 : Juan Carlos Fresnadillo : 108 mins

A mildly surrealist kind of crime-thriller, Intacto imagines an intriguing alternative universe where luck, rather than being an abstract concept, is a practical commodity which can be transferred from person to person by touch and thus accumulated in especially gifted and therefore fortunate individuals. The god of good luck is Samuel Berg (Max Von Sydow), a guilt-stricken concentration-camp survivor who lives secretly under a casino among the volcanic wastelands of Tenerife. As the film begins, Samuels long-time student (and surrogate son) Federico (Eusebio Poncela), offends his mentor by announcing his plans to leave the old man behind and seek his way in the outside world. Samuel responds by embracing Federico and thus absorbing all of the younger mans good luck.

Seven years on, Federico remains desperate for revenge. He must locate a worthy opponent for Sam, and (in a development eerily but coincidentally – reminiscent of Unbreakable) settles on Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a petty criminal who has just survived a plane crash. In a relationship that recalls recent Argentinian hit Nine Queens, Federico takes the wayward young lad under his wing and trains him to succeed in the bizarre tests of luck needed to progress towards a final confrontation with Sam. Complicating matters is a persistent cop, Sara (Monica Lopez), who herself has accumulated a store of undeserved luck in tragic circumstances

Intacto isnt an easy film to summarise, nor is it especially simple to follow. Debutant director FresnadilloIntacto and co-writer Andres Koppel create a puzzling world of complicated rules, not all of which are full explained. We can sort-of-follow whats going on, but several sequences especially those involving a hapless bunch of non-gifted ordinary folk known as captives remain frustratingly opaque. The film is never less than watchable, however, in part thanks to the commanding turns from Von Sydow (in his intermittent appearances) and Poncela, though Sbaraglia (who looks like a cross between Tom Cruise and Matthiew Kassowitz) grows into his part a young man who, realising he’s way out of his depth, rapidly has to find finds his feet.

But there’s something naggingly unsatisfying about Intacto that ensures it falls short of, say, Being John Malkovich or Scanners. Alternative universes (especially those featuring Phil-Dickian psi powers) are tricky things to maintain, and its vital that all aspects of the plot must follow a coherent internal logic. That doesn’t quite happen here. It doesn’t help that Fresnadillos visual input seldom approaches the flight-of-fancy originality of his script cinematographer Xavier Jimenezs creates a conventional look (the cheesy casino scenes recall Croupier), and while aspects of Cesar Macarrons art direction nod towards David Lynch, there’s a lot more to crafting a Lynchian nightmare-world than placing ruby-coloured props among a cobalt-blue background or having people walking down long, blood-red corridors. Lucio Godoys musical score, likewise, is rather too familiar and standard-issue for comfort.

Intacto has all the makings of a dazzling, truly Borgesian thriller and two of the luck games are sensationally imaginative highlights which the Argentinian master would undoubtedly approve. It would be unfair to spell out exactly what goes on, save to say that one involves a winged, treacle-hunting insect, and the other a Return of the Jedi-style race through a forest. These sequences alone confirm Fresnadillos talent and his promise, making it all the more frustrating that so many other elements of the film fall relatively flat. Theres a first-draft feel to some of the dialogue (Ive known you since you survived that earthquake, Sam helpfully informs Federico early on), but Fresnadillo and Koppels most serious error of judgement comes when Von Sydow delivers a spellbinding monologue on his experiences in the concentration camp. We cut from Sams dark tale to a Vegas-style casino display that reads WIN THE JACKPOT – a painfully crass treatment of the most tragic of subjects, awkwardly out of place in what is an absorbing but essentially gimmicky, somewhat pretentious drama.

19th August, 2002
(seen 15th, UGC Edinburgh – Edinburgh Film Festival)

For and interview with the director Juan-Carlos Fresnadillo click here.

For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young