A Couple of Films About the Mystical Cult of Chance: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Intacto and Gela Babluani’s 13 Tzameti

Posted by on December 10th, 2009 at 9:45 AM

How poor a bargain is the life of man, and in how mean a market are we sold.

—Oscar Wilde

The Spanish film Intacto (2002) explores the cult and charisma of “good luck” or nearly divine favoritism that makes some humans seemingly invulnerable, able to survive plane crashes, death-camps, wars, hails of gunfire, suicidal sports.  What is this sort of bulletproof blessedness really, this impervious exceptionality to everything that is the bane or nightmare of mortal lives? This is an issue on which perspectives diverge violently, depending on whether it is ourselves or someone else who is the beneficiary of the luck:  if another, then we readily dismiss it coolly as a meaningless and detached “fluke”—if ourselves, then of course there absolutely had to be some divine purpose or reward or message in it, a “gift” of life or health—or “intactness”—for which we hardly know how to direct our gratitude.

At times the “rightness” or cogency of remarkable good luck feels like a  spiritual aura, a transfiguring grace or fluency that (in this film) may be shared or revoked or lost or regained, an inexplicable but intuitive ionic “charge” in the mystical chemistry of life.  Intacto looks at this arcane life-perspective or modally self-enclosed metaphysics as the basis of a cult, a subculture far more secretive than that of poker or horseracing or bullfighting.  Competitions to select those with the most prodigious endowment of luck are held in the margins or shadows of modern societies all across Europe.  But luck is an ephemeral or a fugitive grace:  use it or lose it.  The only way to be sure one has not cryptically lost it is of course earnestly to test it, to risk it repeatedly in the most decisive or final games of chance that can be devised—hierarchic tournaments of Russian roulette.

Which is the very premise, as well, of the far more noir or sordid 13 Tzameti:  an economically distressed laborer lucks upon a ticket giving him entrée to “a depraved game of chance where the spoils are unimaginable millions, and the losses are counted in lives.”  This film has indeed enough of a dystopian Kafka-like atmosphere that we can readily collapse layers of life and society and dream and myth into a dark, visceral parable about the Mr.-Hyde-face of capitalism. About the knife’s edge between so-called “virtue” and “vice,” “value” and “nihilism,” and “honor” and “contemptibility” in modern commercial civilization, Bierce wrote that “the gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.”  The sardonic lexicographer intimates that the two cultural or perspectival domains are qualitatively or essentially the same, differing only in accidental or peripheral features (just like corporate culture and organized crime).

Gulled into believing that all that they do is done out of “free will,” one “class” (in truth a congenital and character-based caste) is privileged to allow its wealth to earn an ever-more-aggrandizing living for it while the other is obliged to put its life, its natural energies, its health, and above all its family’s health/education/welfare on the line as sacrifices for the benefit of the reigning “compulsive gamblers” of the pollutive modern cosmos.  Under the modern regime of alienated “reason,” what could seem more natural or more right than that some should prosper by staking “other people’s money” and should seize imperial resources for themselves by risking “other people’s lives” as pawns expended in the Great Game?

[©2009 Kenneth Smith]

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One Response to “A Couple of Films About the Mystical Cult of Chance: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Intacto and Gela Babluani’s 13 Tzameti”

  1. The great thing about “academics” is that they can always find something to write about even the shittiest of films, like INTACTO.

    I sure hope you’ll be reviewing AVATAR, Kenneth.