|13 Tzameti (2006)
Starring: George Babluani, Pascal Bongard, Olga Legrand, Philippe Passon
Director: Gela Babulani
Heaven help us if anything resembling “13 Tzameti” (the ‘t’ is silent and the ‘e’ is soft, so it sounds like an Italian dish) takes place in real life. The events in Gela Babluani’s low-budget, grainy black & white thriller may have been shot on the cheap, but few things you’ll ever see come with a steeper price than the one that the lead character pays here.
The story begins with Sebastien (George Babluani), a handyman who’s barely scraping by in order to make ends meet for him and his family. He’s working on a job fixing the roof of Jean-Francois (Philippe Passon), but Jean-Francois dies unexpectedly before paying Sebastien for his work. Prior to that, Sebastien overhears a conversation between Jean-Francois and Mme (Olga Legrand) about receiving instructions in the mail leading to a mysterious, but sizable, payout. Sebastien intercepts the letter, revealing a train ticket and a paid hotel room. Still clueless, but eager to take care of his family, especially his ailing brother, Sebastien makes his way to the hotel, where he receives more cryptic instructions by phone to travel to a different destination. He goes through several hoops before he arrives at the final destination, only to discover that he’s a “player” in an underground, high-stakes Russian roulette tournament. His choices are simple: win, or die.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of “13 Tzameti” is how direct, and dispassionate, Babluani is in his storytelling. There is no melodrama at all; no thunderous crescendo in the score when the guns go off and another one bites the dust, no remorse over the dead, nothing but the smell of cold, hard cash. Being a low-budget French film, it is difficult for someone like me, who has seen exactly three French-speaking movies in his life (“Amelie,” “City of Lost Children,” and “La Femme Nikita”), to give any real analysis on the performances of the actors, since I have no idea if they’re really saying their lines the way they’re supposed to or if they’re going all “Scent of a Woman” Pacino on us. The only person who seemed to be overdoing it was the master of ceremonies (Pascal Bongard). But then again, men’s lives and lots and lots of cash hung in the balance on his every word, so if any job required exaggeration, I suppose it’s that one.
According to IMDb, “13 Tzameti” is receiving an American makeover, due for release in 2008. If you’re smart, you’ll check out the original first, since the remake will surely involve a love interest, a crazy escape plan, and a logic-defying, bullet cam-ridden shootout. This “Tzameti,” however, pulls no such punches. It only dispenses bullets between the eyes, which is as it should be.