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13 Tzameti
France 2005
Directed by Géla Babluani
Running time 86 minutes
Rated MA
3 stars


13 Tzameti is the kind of film a small number of people will enthuse over but the majority will find distasteful. I must say I felt quite unwell after seeing it, less because of its content than because of its draining tension and that has to be regarded as a win for the writer/director, Géla Babluani, the son of a well-known Georgian film-maker.

Sébastien (George Babluani, the director’s brother) is a poor roofer working on a run-down house, home to a couple of no-accounts. He gets the drift that something shady is going on and that the man is about to undertake some task that will get him a lot of easy money. When the man dies of a drug overdose, Sébastien finds a letter intended for the dead man with a train ticket and a pre-paid booking for a hotel room, and decides to take his place. What he eventually discovers is that the man was going to take part in an existentially-deranged betting ring who wager on a game of Russian roulette with hired players and that he is now one of the players. The concept is, appropriately enough, like something Dostoyesky might have imagined and Babluani sets up the story in the author’s style. Although the setting is contemporary, Sébastien, with his hand-cart and rudimentary equipment looks like someone out of the 19th century whilst he lives in grotty digs with what appears to be his raggedy extended family. That the film is shot in black and white adds to the feeling of temporal disjunction. The main act of the film is the game where human life is wagered and this is, awful as it is, fabulously well realized, the nerve-wracking tension palpable and involving because we have been so cleverly led to identify with the fresh-faced young man who is making such a terrible sacrifice in order to provide for his family. There are a couple of points however which bother plotwise. Firstly, if there was a policeman in the carriage with Sébastien on the way to his destination how did the police manage to lose him? That one can excuse , but more importantly, survival in the game depends not just on chance but who fires first. For it be properly a game of chance each person should have been aiming their gun at themselves à la The Deerhunter. Whether one likes it or not, to Babluani’s credit 13 Tzameti  is, for a relatively small debut project, a skilfully-realised film built on an economical idea.

FYIBabluani remade the film for Hollywood in 2010 with a cast of marquee heavies including Jason Statham, Ray Winstone and the increasingly sad figure of Mickey Rourke and  cowboy hat. Bereft of the nihilistic atmosphere of the black and white original, it is a pointless exercise that did credit to no one,

Available from: Gryphon Entertainment

 

 

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