Plane crash survivor Tomas is tutored by Federico in the underground world of supernaturally fortuitous people who can absorb the luck of ordinary folk and then gamble with it. Federico sees Tomas as a challenger to holocaust survivor Samuel, long-reigning luckiest man in the world.
In the talking point scene of Intacto - as sure to be imitated by macho idiots as the stabbing-round-the-hand game of Knife In The Water or the bare-knuckles bouts of Fight Club - supposedly lucky contestants are blindfolded with their hands taped behind their backs, then made to run at top speed through dense forest, losers painfully eliminating themselves by smacking headlong into trees.
What impresses is not so much the cinematic verve, though it's shot with unfussy proficiency, but the idea.
The big draw of this Spanish film is that it is among the rarest of beasts, a truly original premise satisfyingly thought through.
It opens with a disorientating shot of a casino nestled in a desert mountain range that could be on the moon (it's actually Tenerife). From there, it plunges straight into a world whose rules we have to pick up as we go along, as the lucky draw fortune from ordinary folk with vampire-like hugs, then stake photographs of people and objects when they gamble.
Debuting writer-director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo displays amazing confidence as he takes an approach that suggests a less gimmick-addicted M. Night Shyamalan, always making emotional sense of the fantastical.
Considering the wild premise, the film is remarkably unflashy, rooting its supernatural kinks in credible, affecting human drama.
Max Von Sydow, playing in English among Spanish-speakers, is the God of Chance - like most of the 'lucky' people we meet, he's someone who has survived a disaster so traumatic he can take no pleasure in his good fortune. With grave melancholy and a polythene carpet cover, he takes on challengers in a long-shot game of Russian roulette, with five bullets to one empty chamber.
Even tiny details - like the sand-coloured suits Von Sydow and his opponents wear for their ritual matches - are given resonance in a monologue about Samuel's wartime origins, which is among the best screen work this great actor has ever done.
Youll need to pay attention, but its worth it. In two years time, you can be one of the folks saying that the all-but-inevitable <b>Ring</b>-style Hollywood remake isnt as good as the original.