In Intacto, the debut film by the young Spanish director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, a shadowy, underground gambling network play games of chance for very high stakes. But this is not ordinary gambling. The players believe that they have fate on their side and are willing to test this faith to extreme limits. Behind this mysterious network is Sam (Max von Sydow, still a commanding and powerful presence at 83 years old), the only survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, with the power to take or bestow luck upon other people. The ultimate test of one’s luck is to play against Sam at his casino in the desolate desert of Ucanca in Tenerife. Federico (Eusebio Poncela), has been expelled from Sam’s group and his luck has been taken from him. He finds Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the sole survivor of a plane crash and hopes to use him to take the challenge against Sam. Tomás however is on the run, and a police officer, who has had her own brush with fate, is on his trail.
Fate, in Intacto is a double-edged sword. Not an original metaphor, but then again, the idea is not original either. Like the person who wins the lottery, luck brings good fortune, but it also brings its own problems, responsibilities and pressures. The principal problem is the loss of freedom and the power to choose. What do you do when unasked for and undeservedly, extraordinary luck is bestowed upon you? The idea of a person being blessed with extraordinary luck is not new in cinema or television. Most recently, M. Night Shyamalan explored the supernatural elements of fate and chance in Unbreakable, and the dark mood of that film seems to be taken to greater lengths in Intacto.
Some of the games of chance are quite bizarre. Some involve direct personal risk – such as running blindfold across a busy motorway – others are entirely surreal. In every case however, the blindfold is used, representing the fact that chance is blind. The film gains from this surreal atmosphere as it does from the religious imagery employed. This is appropriate, since having control of one’s own destiny precludes the existence of God and instead confers god-like status upon the individual. The religious subtext is not overt, but its iconography has been clearly appropriated as a framework for the film to work upon. Max von Sydow’s character, Sam, dressed always in white, is the creator of the whole clandestine cult of game players and has control over the lives of the players. Like faith, the players believe that they have been chosen and have been blessed with this grace that places them above other mortals and will bring them closer to the man in charge. In another religious metaphor, Federico has been expelled from paradise. Dressed in black, he searches for and tempts candidates to be able to challenge Sam and maybe defeat him once and for all. The stakes that are played for are often photographs of people, symbolising the capturing of souls. None of this is entirely new either – Chris Carter’s Millennium television series similarly and brilliantly explored the area of clandestine religious organisations and the apocalyptic dimensions of their actions and behaviour. Intacto stands up well against this, but doesn’t really add anything new.
The DVD being reviewed is the Spanish 2-disc set, which has English subtitles on the feature. Disc one contains the film with a director’s commentary track and a few extras; disc two contains the majority of the extras. None of the extra material is subtitled.
The film is very dark and the contrast is high. It is possibly a little too dark and occasionally it is difficult to make out what is going on, but that could be how the film is intended to be viewed. I haven’t seen this in the cinema to be able to compare. Otherwise the image is very sharp, clear and remarkably detailed with good colour balance. There is barely a single mark or dust spot on the print, but there is some minor digital artefacting where the image shimmers occasionally. This is only noticeable in heavily textured scenes, mainly in the woods scene, but rarely anywhere else.
The sound is excellent – a strong clear Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The surrounds are effectively and subtly used, never really jumping out at you, but at the same time drawing you in without drawing your attention.
Disc 1 Extras
Detailed biographies and selected filmographies are included for all the main cast and for the director. Text is in Spanish only.
The film won 2 Goyas (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Director and Best New Actor (Sbaraglia). It received 6 other nominations.
When you select the Película (Film) option, you have the choice of Storyboards, Film or Commentary. When the Storyboard option is selected, the film will be played in full and a red 'I' will appear during key scenes. Hitting the 'Enter' key will bring up the storyboard for that particular scene. Selection of the Storyboard option plays the film in Spanish with Spanish subtitles for English dialogue in the film. If you want the English subtitles while this function is selected, use English subtitle track 7. Unfortunately, after watching one storyboard, the film will return to subtitle track 2, so you will have to keep manually changing this back. There are not a large number of scenes storyboarded.
The commentary is in Spanish only with no subtitles of any kind. Fresnadillo talks about the concept and themes of the film - principally the ambiguities of luck – as well as some background on the making of the film and the psychology of the characters. For the most part however the commentary is explanatory, explaining the significance of each scene and where it is leading to. This is a very visual film, relying on charcter's actions, expressions and movements to convey meaning rather than have them tell you what they are doing, so the director's commentary does seem to defeat the purpose. Nevertheless, if you can speak Spanish, a large number of plot complexities are cleared up. This is definitely a film that requires a second viewing to catch all the details.
Disc 2 Extras
To get to the extra material on Disc 2, you have to play a three games of chance. This is a nice little menu feature that is in keeping with the spirit of the film, but do not play the games if you have not yet seen the film as there are serious spoilers here. The games are all visual, so no knowledge of Spanish is required. If you fail, a voice tells you ‘Fallaste’ (Failed) and you can try again. If you are correct, you are told ‘Acertaste’ (Passed) and you are given access to the extras. I’m not sure how many goes you have at each of the games, most of which are 50/50 choices. Occasionally the screen goes blank, but you can return to the menu by pressing ‘Menu’ on your remote control. Game 1 and Game 2 must be played and passed first before you are allowed to play Game 3. If you can’t be bothered with the games, you have the option to go direct to the Extra Features menu. This can be done by selecting the red ‘I’ and choosing Navegación Directa. A Spanish insert in the DVD case also visually maps out the navigation system.
Game 1 – Roulette Test
Completion of this game will give you access to two of the directors early short films.
Psicotaxi (3 mins) strangely enough touches on some of the themes of Intacto. It features Alejando Jodorowsky in a taxi from the airport to his hotel in Paris, expressing thoughts on fate, plane crashes, the death of a father and survivor's guilt. Principally though it is about sincerity of feelings and reciprocation of them. I think. In Spanish with no subtitles, the audio is a bit noisy and muffled.
. Interestingly, the Spanish word for a married couple, esposados also means handcuffed and the short film plays on both meanings of the word here. The film features a husband and wife who hate each other passionately. When his wife wins the national lottery, she buys a new house and want to have a palm tree in the front garden. He dreams of going to Brazil, but he needs to get his hands on her money. In black and white, 1.85:1 letterbox, this is an accomplished little film, an ever so slightly demented thriller full of ideas and style. It received an Oscar nomination in 1997 and was the winner of 40 festival prizes worldwide. In Spanish with no subtitles unfortunately.
Game 2 – Roulette Test
Completion of the second game will give you access to 3 TV Spots (0.41) presented in 4:3 and the Trailer (2.21) presented letterboxed in 1.85:1. A Making of (15.56) is in Spanish only with no subtitles. It features comments from the cast and crew, some behind the scenes shots, some special effects set-ups. The director and crew talk about the challenges of making the film. A short Special Effects (2.18) featurette is good – not too in-depth, but giving you an idea how much was put into achieving the look of the film. No dialogue or voice-over.
Game 2 – Russian Roulette Test
After you have completed both the previous games, you have access to the third game. Completion of this test will give you access to:
Designs. 4 pages of Wardrobe designs and 12 photographs of the sets.Promotional Material includes Posters, Lobby cards, two Pressbooks (nicely designed promo material, but not large enough to read), and about 10 Behind The Scenes Photos. After you view these and return to the main menu, you are given access to a hidden extra, the International Trailer, presented in 2.35:1 letterbox with an English voice-over. This feature is not available via the direct access menu.
While it is not based on the most original of ideas, Intacto has a certain style and is a reasonably well-paced thriller with a deeper intriguing subtext. Fresnadillo is clearly a talented new director who, if he is allowed to develop some of the style and ideas presented here, seems destined (or maybe he is making his own luck) to go on to greater things. Unless you have good knowledge of Spanish, I don’t think there would be any benefit in buying this Spanish R2 two-disc edition. For most people it might be worth waiting to see if a few of the extras and the short films make it across to the UK R2 edition.