13 Tzameti

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Unlucky Number

George Babluani plays Sébastien.

It seems unlikely that Hollywood would take an interest in such a dark film as 13 Tzameti, but critics were quick to see its potential as an American remake after the movie picked up prizes at the Sundance and Venice film festivals.

Shot in contrasty black and white, the just-released film, written and directed by Géla Babluani, tells its shocking story sparingly, with few words. It begins simply, as we watch the main character, the youthful Sébastien (vividly portrayed by George Babluani), a roofer, crossing paths with members of his Georgian family, who live in Normandy. Their limited conversation is always about money – Is the job finished? Did you get paid? Did you find a new job? How much will it pay? – but it is clear that these are people who care for each other in spite of their difficulties.

At his current job, Sébastien is working on the house of an ex-con, Jean-François (Philippe Passon), who regularly drugs himself into unconsciousness while waiting for word on a caper that will pay big dividends.

Everyone around him is interested in this mysterious project: a cash-strapped cohort who drops by looking for help; the fed-up live-in girlfriend who would probably rather live out; the roofer; and, we soon discover, the police. They are all spying on Jean-François. The girlfriend lingers in the corridor to eavesdrop on him, while the roofer listens and watches through a hole in the roof. Outside, a policeman on a stakeout is taking photos of everyone who approaches the house and reading Jean-François’s mail.

The letter Jean-François is waiting for finally arrives, but he dies of an overdose before he can carry out his mission. The roofer is let go without pay, but the mysterious letter has come into his hands, so he takes it with him. Knowing that a big payoff is promised at the end of the trail, he follows its instructions, which eventually take him to a house well-hidden in the forest, where a high-stakes game of Russian roulette is being played. Our feckless young hero has gone too far and must play the game.

We won’t reveal the rest of this highly suspenseful story, but suffice it to say that it does not focus on the pretty side of human nature. In this small world, money and bloodlust rule, and no one is innocent.

In his first feature film, the young Georgian director tells his tale simply yet artfully. The use of black and white creates a certain distance from the horrific events that occur in the film, removing some of the shock value and giving the viewer the freedom to consider the thorny moral and philosophical issues raised.

Somehow it’s hard to imagine that the Hollywood version will be in black and white – how would we know what color the blood is?

Heidi Ellison

© 2006 Paris Update

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