Christophe Van de Velde
Trivia The father of the director, Temur Babluani, was apprently once the world Russian Roulette champion.
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13 (Tzameti) (2006)
5th Jan 06
A Georgian immigrant in France hopes to earn a fast buck, but soon finds himself unwittingly caught up in a deadly game of Russian Roulette.
They say that the best low-budget ideas involve a small room, two men and a gun. Gela Babluani goes one better than this (or how about 12 better?) for his debut French feature that focuses on an innocent immigrant roof-worker who overhears a conversation about a way to earn a lot of money. Unbeknownst to him though, this ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme involves a secretive gambling syndicate and a deadly game of Russian Roulette in the French countryside with 12 other participants.
Sumptuously shot in black and white (see other debut directors who tried this approach such as Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch), 13 (Tzameti) features the director’s brother, George Babluani in the lead role of 22-year-old Sebastian. Struggling to make ends meet to help support his family, Sebastian takes a job working on the roof of a house owned by morphine-addicted Godon (Phillipe Pason). Through a slow-paced, but elegant opening we learn that the old man is in desperate need of money, and has but one option left to take, an option that may very well not work at all.
Whilst Godon waits for the letter that will provide him with more details of the ‘fast-buck’ scheme, Sebastian toils away on the tiles, listening in on the conversations of the household. When at last the letter does arrive, Godon dies in the bath from a drug overdose, and in the ensuing confusion, Sebastian spots and picks up the letter with its cryptic content of train and hotel tickets. Sensing that this letter is the one that Godon mentioned could lead to a rather large pay-off, Sebastian follows the instructions to a Paris hotel, where he receives a phone call informing him of the next instructions. It is here that Sebastian decides to take a chance and follow the mystery through to its shocking and brutal reveal.
Taking and running with the themes of chance and violence Gela Babluani (who is the son of famous Georgian director Temur Babluani) impresses here with a simple, but extremely atmospheric and effective thriller that contains many heart-in-your-mouth moments of sheer tension. After being raised in Georgia during the 90s, Babluani is well placed to investigate the human instinct for violence and power, and here he shows how death can be in situations like this; sharp, sudden and with no remorse.
On the acting front, first-time actor George Babluani is solidly convincing as the innocent, twitchy-eyed immigrant caught up in matters far above his head. As the only participant who is unaware of the situation, and therefore the least ready to accept death, the slow dawning of the fate that awaits him at the French countryside cottage is superbly played out as he fills the number 13 T-shirt of the deadly game.
The black and white visuals, although slightly grainy at times, perfectly complement the tone of the film, with acres of dark shadows hinting at the darker side of human nature. Even the light in the film, in particular the light bulb that signals each round to begin, offers no respite. It’s hard to imagine that this film would be anywhere near as good in colour.
Thanks to its slow-paced character-building opening, the explosive violence when it eventually does happen is reminiscent of an early Tarantino at work, not so much dwelled upon as simply shown in all its shocking sudden brutality. Mixing urban kitchen-sink drama with hard-hitting violence, 13 is a tremendous way to kick off the New Year, and if you don’t flinch at least once during this film, then you have the heart of a marble aardvark.