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Hard Luck 

Being fortunate brings its own curses in Intacto.

Intacto, the first feature film by 34-year-old Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is a complex meditation on luck, fate, and the torments of memory. Remarkable for its inventive visual style and its bold imaginative leaps, Intacto demands the close attention of an alert audience. But it's also so entertainingly quirky and full of such unexpected turns that it keeps pace as an action movie while taking us down all kinds of philosophical byways. Part fable, part thriller, it marks a promising debut for an important new filmmaker.

Each of the the strange cast of characters has seen life altered by chance. There is Federico (Eusebio Poncela), a gambler obsessed with Dame Fortune -- and with the notion that luck itself is a kind of spiritual commodity that can be transmitted from person to person, or lost, like cash or chips. Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is a petty thief who seems to embody Federico's idea. When an airliner crashes, Tomás is the only survivor among 238 passengers. Federico tabs him as a man with a certain gift.

Sara (Mónica López) is the police detective on Tomás's trail when he escapes from a hospital, and she, too, is intimate with chance. Her husband and child were killed in a car crash; she lived, and now she is plagued by guilt. Antonio Dechent plays a famous bullfighter who has never suffered a scratch in the ring. And there is the apparent proprietor of an eerie casino, one Samuel Berg (the great Max von Sydow), a mysterious old man whose encounter with luck is the most troubling of all. He's a former Nazi concentration-camp inmate, whose grief and guilt compel him to test fate constantly, in a secret, lethal game of chance.

With the policewoman Sara in hot pursuit, Federico and Tomás find themselves on a bizarre journey into the gambling underground, where they test themselves against high-stakes players willing to risk everything, in dangerous challenges of will, for their own concepts of power and fate. In one rite, blindfolded contestants with their hands tied behind them run full-speed through a heavily wooded forest. The last person not to smash face-first into a tree is the winner. There are peculiar card games and enough preliminary gunplay to raise the hairs on the coolest neck, but the strange odyssey of Federico and Tomás leads up to the ultimate moment -- an encounter with Samuel Berg, the legendary "god of good luck," in the dark recesses of his hellish casino. Suffice it to say that this last test involves executioner's hoods, loaded revolvers, and the notion that some good luck is not just undeserved, but absolutely cursed. Von Sydow's speech about the cycles of fate, the tokens of luck, and the specter of death -- the blind dates we all have with fortune -- is something to behold.

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