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  Publicity Stills of "13 Tzameti"
(Courtesy from Lighthouse Pictures)

In French with English Subtitles
Director: Géla Babluani
Cast: George Babluani, Pascal Bongard, Aurélien Recoing, Fred Ulysse, Nicolas Pignon, Vania Vilers, Olga Legrand, Christophe Van de Velde, Augustin Legrand, Jo Prestia
RunTime: 1 hr 30 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films & Lighthouse Pictures
Rating: NC-16 (Mature Theme)

Opening Day: 22 March 2007


20-year-old Sebastien (Georges Babluani) leads an impoverished life with his immigrant family constantly struggling to support them. While repairing the roof of a neighbor's house, he overhears a conversation about an expected package which promises to make the household rich. Sensing the opportunity of a lifetime, Sebastien intercepts the package which contains a series of specific instructions. Following the clues, he assumes a false identity and manages to slip through the grasp of the enclosing police as he ventures deeper and deeper into the countryside. The closer he gets to his destination and the more people he meets along the way, the less he understands about what he is looking for. Ultimately, he comes face to face with a ring of clandestine gamblers placing bets on the outcome of a multi-player, high stakes tournament of Russian roulette. Directed by newcomer Gela Babluani, "13 Tzameti" (pronounced: 'zah-meddy') is a winner-take-all thriller, where an unfortunate young man is transformed into Contestant #13 with no way out save his luck.

Movie Review:

“13 Tzameti” which won this year's Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for World Cinema (dramatic) is a wickedly gloomy neo-noir thriller that is borne out of a chilling premise and an irrefutably ominous style undertaken by its writer-director, Gela Babluani. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch at all to postulate that the film’s style and direction is probably the film’s raison d'être. Already quite eager to stick his name into the pantheon of revered auteurdom with quite the auspicious start, Babluani, with a banzai of bravado manages to mastermind Hitchcockian measures of claustrophobic suspense in a luring and utterly fascinating feature debut that takes to task France’s socioeconomic disparities to the extreme.

Given that the key to its entire composition is its careful and precise direction and powerful tonal command, the act structure remains clear and simple throughout with the 3 standard acts of discovery, confrontation and resolution. It never validates its intentions as a work of deception by twisting and turning its narrative but instead takes the customary route of withholding vital information and carving out key sequences of exposition that carries the suspense from scene to scene and escalates the stakes from action to action. But despite its obvious narrative simplicity, “13 Tzameti” is an incredible beast of a movie in its sheer veracity of spirit. It tells no lies in its discommoding mood and menacing tone, starting off as anxious as it ends. So much so that one has to tip his or her hat to Babluani’s giddy verve of combining the film’s explosive sadism with the keen state of mind to philosophise it later.

In spite of the film’s clever conceptualisation of the underlying subtext, it’s hard not to appreciate its terms on a literal level. In no way would I dare to spoil any sort of surprise that the first act evidently wants to lead us to, but I will say that the second act holds on to its guns with tremendous force and the atmospheric tension that hinges off its ferocious drive to allegorise the haves and have-nots in modern France. Specifically, the exploitation of the immigrant populace (the director is a Georgian immigrant) and the desperate, criminal means undertaken by them in order to keep up in society. Then it goes further on to examine the individual in question.

Sebastien (Georges Babluani, the director’s brother), a young roofer struggling to support his family is deprived of a vital payment from a household where something shady and potentially profitable is apparently being waited upon. The item arrives in a form of an envelope containing a train ticket and hotel details that through a confluence of events, winds up in the hands of our protagonist. Sebastien, in a fit of financial desperation and wide-eyed naiveté follows the instructions that he once overheard and quickly finds himself in a whole heap of trouble. Now, on a level probing Sebastien’s predicament, the film argues its case for existential reasoning through the fatalistic circumstances that he finds himself in. Driven by circumstances, he puts himself in a diabolical situation that seems to have been plucked right out of Kafka’s mind, and is forced to be a pawn in a cynical game that ultimately comes down to fate and luck.

Keeping with the eeriness of its disposition, “13 Tzameti” has its share of distinctive accentuations in its countryside locale, intimidating faces and a creepy overlay of sounds to go along with Babluani’s smoothly desolate, encompassing cinematography that is only heightened by his choice of stark visuals. Using a black-and-white canvas throughout the proceedings, it recalls an intensely grim, conscious nightmare that plasters over the hyper-realism of its brutality that while never explicit, also never fails to mask the impact of the viciousness that comes with humanity’s venal nature.

Movie Rating:

(An incredibly intense and wickedly crafted nightmare world)

Review by Justin Deimen

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