2006, NR, 86 min. Directed by Gela Babluani. Starring George Babluani, Jean Pascal Bongard, Aurélien Recoing, Fred Ulysse, Nicolas Pignon, Vania Vilers.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 3, 2006
This first feature by Georgian-born French immigrant, Gela Babluani, marks a memorable debut – not only for the writer/director but also his brother George Babluani, who plays the film’s lead character Sébastien, a Georgian immigrant who is scraping by in France. Filmed in widescreen black-and-white, this dark and harrowing film conveys the look of film noir combined with the bleak existentialist sentiments found in so many Eastern European works. 13 (Tzameti) is a stylish thriller that is difficult to describe without giving too much away in a review. (Although the film’s trailer is less discreet about what it reveals, don’t be lulled into thinking it discloses all the story’s surprises.) We experience the story much as, Sébastien does, seizing a mysterious opportunity that is rumored to have a big payoff, progressing step by step down a set path that leaves no room for retreat once the full implications of what he has gotten into become manifest. Let’s just say that it involves a highly organized Russian roulette tournament played for the highest of stakes. The number Sébastien wears is 13 (“tzameti” is Georgian for 13). 13 (Tzameti) is a bit slow getting started while it shows how Sébastien comes by the information – a train ticket and a hotel reservation – from the constantly overdosing junkie whose roof he is fixing. Yet in his debut film, George Babluani proves to have a very expressive face and strong screen presence, allowing us to accompany him on his untold adventure in which he adopts the identity of the junkie to carry through with the unknown get-rich-quick enterprise. Tension is skillfully built by the filmmaker, who steadily escalates the horror past the point where we might expect it to subside. As technically audacious as the movie is, however, 13 (Tzameti) is also a nasty piece of work, falling more into the domain of vicious suspense thrillers like the Saw trilogy than a Russian roulette-friendly movie such as The Deer Hunter. This simply constructed film also calls to mind classic hunter-and-hunted epics such as The Most Dangerous Game, and while Babluani’s film, given its subject matter, is relatively bloodless, it is nevertheless psychologically brutal and raw. One wonders what its objective is other than the cynical obliteration of all hope. Having caught the eye of Hollywood with 13 (Tzameti), Babluani has been given the chance to film an English-language remake. I suspect the filmmaker’s cynicism may yet discover whole new horizons to exploit. AFS at Dobie
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13 (Tzameti), Gela Babluani, George Babluani, Jean Pascal Bongard, Aurélien Recoing, Fred Ulysse, Nicolas Pignon, Vania Vilers