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The Unusual Suspects: Intacto, Spider

Odd characters fill CFS flicks

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INTACTO
***1/2

DIRECTED BY
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

STARS
Max Von Sydow, Leonardo Sbaraglia

SPIDER
***

DIRECTED BY
David Cronenberg

STARS
Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson

Producers who foster burgeoning young talent don't receive much ink, so let's hear it for Spain's Fernando Bovaira, the man who, among other achievements, helped writer-director Alejandro Amenabar bring both Abre Los Ojos and The Others to the screen. More recently, he served as executive producer for Intacto, a striking work of originality from debuting writer-director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Part of this month's Charlotte Film Society series, this unique drama suggests that "luck" isn't some intangible element that randomly happens to people but rather a commodity that can be fostered, traded and even stolen by those who can recognize and harness its might. Fresnadillo's story (co-written with Andres Koppel) smoothly follows four interesting characters who are all blessed (cursed?) with the "gift": a Holocaust survivor (Max Von Sydow) against whom all other lucky souls are measured; his former protege (Eusebio Poncela), stripped of his powers and now seeking retribution; a bank robber (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who's also the sole survivor of an airplane crash that killed hundreds of people; and a dedicated cop (Monica Lopez) haunted by the deaths of her husband and daughter. Coming up with this unique concept was only half the battle, but Fresnadillo wins the war outright in a manner that's both playful -- the games that these gamblers hold to test their limits are clever -- and profound: Does an individual always create his or her own luck, or does fate sometimes supersede?

Despite a title that suggests David Cronenberg might be back to his icky ways (this is, after all, the man who gave us a bloodsucking armpit in Rabid and exploding heads in Scanners), Spider actually turns out to be one of the most subtle pictures the Canadian filmmaker has ever made. Working from Patrick McGrath's novel, Cronenberg spins a psychological tale about a mentally disturbed man (Ralph Fiennes) who, having just been released from an insane asylum, sets up residence in a halfway house run by an unfeeling landlady (Lynn Redgrave). He quickly becomes lost in the tangled memories of his youth, agonizing over a past in which he witnessed his loutish father (Gabriel Byrne) neglecting his demure mother (Miranda Richardson) in order to pursue the town tart (also played by Richardson). There's a twist ending that's absurdly easy to figure out almost from the start, so it's best not to approach this as a conventional drama but rather as a knotty character study about a warped individual so traumatized by his inability as a youth to get a grip on his burgeoning sexuality (the Oedipal complex and Madonna/whore syndrome both come into play) that he's never able to reconcile his own tainted memories with the reality of his childhood. As the muttering, fidgety protagonist, Fiennes delivers an extraordinary performance that, above all else, is surprisingly sympathetic.

As for the month's other CFS titles, Divine Intervention (unscreened) is a darkly comic look at Palestinian-Israeli tensions, while The Bread, My Sweet (unscreened) stars Scott Baio in a romantic fable about a man who works as both a heartless corporate raider and as an affable bakery owner. For prices and showtimes, call 704-414-2355 or go online to http://charlottefilmsociety.com.

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