Tuesday, June 19, 2007

13 TZAMETI (2005) Movie Review

13 TZAMETI (2005)

Sebastien is a Georgian immigrant living in France and working as an smalltime contractor fixing houses to help his family make ends meet. When his employer dies of an overdose, Sebastien finds a mysterious envelope with a train ticket and hotel room receipt. Recalling an overheard conversation regarding a job that he employer was about to perform that would bring great wealth, Sebastien decides to take the journey himself. After following a series of strange phone calls and a breadcrumb-like trail, Sebastien is brought to a remote and rundown mansion in the woods. There, he discovers just what he has gotten himself into - a thirteen player game of Russian Roulette, with wealthy gamblers betting hundreds of thousands of Euros on who will live and who will die.

With cold and harsh brush strokes that only black and white cinema can conjure, debut director/writer Gela Babluani paints a bleak and uncaring world within France, where death is bet on by the soulless elite, and the poor and desperate willingly put their heads in the line of fire for a slim chance at becoming part of the upper crust. Not since LA HAINE has France felt so raw and desolate. Into this world he thrusts a young and naive man (played by the director's brother, George), whose only thoughts are the well-being of his family. It makes Sebastien, who already is isolated due to his immigration status, just that more isolated, as he is the only character in the film that thinks about anyone other than themselves. George Sebastien, who makes his acting debut here, captures the viewer from the get go with his sheepishly shy performance.

Although the story focuses on Sebastien, Babluani's world is inhabited with characters that are given a surprising amount of depth, given their brief screen time. This is a testament to both the director's vision and the actors he has chosen to portray his creations. Though we are not given any background on them, it is quite easy to say that each one's untold story that brings them into the mansion where the game is played would make just as equally as good a movie. There are those that bet and "endorse" the players, and the players themselves - among them being a grotesquely obese man and an overly aggressive man whose own brother is betting on him - that add some real human traits to a very inhuman game.

The actual game, which takes up only a small portion of the film, is obviously where Babluani puts most of his focus, and is the "shower scene" of the movie. Every angle and every second vitally important. The eyes of each contestant become the windows to their souls. Like the strike of noon on a clock tower in a western, a light bulb in the center of the circle is watched by twenty-six waiting eyes. Life is whittled down to a single moment as thirteen fingers pull thirteen triggers. Babluani gives a new definition to tension here, and the scenario is just dirty enough and grimy enough that the burning gunpowder can almost be tasted as the shots come ringing out of the speakers. Nick Chevotarevich might even wince watching the build up.

Many films should be seen knowing as little as possible about what you are about to see, and 13 TZAMETI (tzameti means thirteen in Georgian) is certainly no exception. In fact, the direct enjoyment of the film revolves crucially around going on the journey with Sebastien "blind". Sadly, Palm Pictures, which released the film here in the US doesn't think so, and uses DVD artwork that destroys the fragile and carefully pieced together rising tension and insecurity we feel with Sebastien. Make all attempts to avert seeing the cover. Your future self will thank me.


dASH said...

i keep meaning to watch this one... i have it, but just haven't had the time.. sounds good though!

Alex Barkett said...

Yes, this movie is awesome. I'm so glad I took the plunge when it had a little bit of hype going, otherwise it's the kind of thing I could have passed by for years. Very interesting style, very gripping, and an interesting progression of lingering noir. Nice review.


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