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Tuesday, January 07, 2003

At this time of year, it’s tough to make movie-going decisions. There are a lot of “major” movies that I still haven’t found time for—Adaptation, The Hours, Chicago, Lord of the Rings, etc. I feel weird describing them as “major,” because much as I want to see Adaptation (the intense, fabulous inventiveness of Being John Malkovich earns Adaptation a place in anyone’s calendar), and as curious as I am about The Hours and Chicago, if only to discuss them with Oscar-obsessed buddies, I’m just not terribly excited by “big” movies. I’m sure snobbery’s a big part of it, but given the schlock that earns Oscar statuettes year after year, snobbery’s probably a healthy response.

I rehearsed all this as I looked at the movie section of the paper (a nice image, but you know I made my selections online!). All those award-bait movies are going to be around until the big show—or at least until the nominations come out. Meanwhile, there were two interesting-looking movies that will probably enjoy only a brief stay in Seattle.

So, on Sunday I went to the Varsity to see Intacto. The movie had been on my radar for a while. I’d seen previews for it in Spain back in fall 2001, but I couldn’t get a good sense of what it was about. Then when trailers started to show up here in Seattle, I was even more confused. I recognized Spanish actors, but everyone seemed to be speaking English.

Well, I needn’t have worried. The movie was excellent. Yes, it begins with a lot of English, but it’s very definitely a Spanish movie, with the lovely combination of visceral excitement and cerebral resonance that so often entails. (I was really impressed that Tony Scott made this point in his New York Times review of the film.) The lead actor is Leonardo Sbaraglia, an Argentine actor who was great in Marcelo Piñeyro’s Plata Quemada and Caballos Salvajes, but he’s totally convincing as a lisping Spaniard.

It’s the sort of movie that I want to be very careful not to spoil for anyone; I certainly don’t want to give anyone an excuse not to see it, but without divulging more than the trailer gives away, the movie’s theme is luck. What makes some people especially lucky—Holocaust survivors, the people who walk away from plane or car crashes or earthquakes while everyone else dies. Is survival really a positive thing? Can you control your luck? Who does it belong to? Can you take away someone else’s good fortune? Is there anything you can do to tip the odds in your favor? Is there a difference between luck and fearlessness?

Amid all these philosophical koans (and the director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, does a great job of posing the questions without diffusing the film’s impressive momentum), there’s a wonderfully inventive series of competitions, where a series of lucky men and women (they must prove their good fortune to gain entry) test their luck. The contests are bizarre, tense (because the audience—like some of the competitors—never really knows what’s coming next), dangerous, and exhilarating. And at the end (and the beginning) of the circuit is the “god of chance,” played by Max Von Sydow, a man of mystery who seems to live at the end of the world. (Actually, it’s the otherworldy lava landscape of Tenerife.) Oh, and there’s also a cop involved. And you know she’s lucky too.

Intacto is smart and exciting and fun, and it'll induce more people to buy Polaroid cameras than any movie since Memento.