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13 Tzameti

A movie directed by Géla Babluani

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13 Tzameti -- Unfreakingbelieveable

  • Oct 13, 2010

This is the quote from the Netflix sleeve for the film 13 Tzameti: “Sébastien uncharacteristically throws caution to the wind when he decides to follow a set of instructions intended for someone else, leading him to a nightmarish destination from which he may never return.” It starts slowly, but then becomes one of the most intense films I have ever seen. If you are at all curious, then close this review and only come back and rate my opinion after you have seen the film.

I am not kidding.

I have had requests to give some more details, I tried for a long time last night to do it and could not find a way, but others have asked some broad questions. If you need a little more information, then please see the comment section--there will be a comment called "I hope this dosen't spoil anything."

Plot spoilers that will ruin the film SERIOUS WARNING

Sébastien is basically a Georgian (former SSR) day laborer in coastal France. He has been hired to re-roof a house populated by an odd woman and an addicted older man. An envelope arrives for the old man, Jean-Francois, it contains a train ticket to Paris and a booking at a hotel. Jean-Francois kills himself and, due to a ‘fortuitous’ wind, the envelope is blown out of an open window. Sébastien finds it and decides to see what it is about; he knows from eavesdropping that it is probably dangerous, likely will involve illegal drugs, but will certainly involve money.

Think of the tensest movie you have ever seen: Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Rosmary’s Baby, Requiem for a Dream, Apocalypse Now, The Dear Hunter (this last one is closest perhaps). All of these films are children’s stories in comparison to 13 Tzameti.

Gela Babulani, a Georgian, directs his brother George Babulani (Sébastien) in the tensest thing I have ever seen (the title is actually repetitive, tzameti means 13 in Georgian). I have to believe that Gela Babulani is someone versed in the tactics of Soviet and Nazi prisons and interrogations; otherwise, I hope he takes his meds when he isn’t making movies. The gamblers themselves risk only money; their athletes don’t just risk their lives, they guarantee that only one of them will remain alive at the end.

The first half hour of the black and white film is fairly dull. Some minor tension is created, but mainly in the expecting of something more complicated. Once Sébastien shows up at the arena, not only does the tension spike, some of the best acting I’ve seen in a while, especially from someone new.

At first, all you have is some betting by very slimy men—they have enormous sums of cash, but are, in a word, disgusting. Only when the ‘athletes’ enter the ring does it become apparent. Each man wears a t-shirt with a number created by electrical tape on it and they stand in a circle holding a revolver loaded with one bullet—this isn’t Russian roulette in the real sense because that is holding the gun go your own head. No, this is Gulag/Death Camp roulette. In this case, timing is a major component; you have to hope that the man behind the man holding the gun to your head has a loaded chamber and kills him before your ‘killer’ pulls his trigger.

George Babluani carries the whole movie minus one person, the Master of Ceremonies (I will get to him in a moment) who doesn’t carry anything but only adds things, almost beyond understanding. The first round has Sébastien unable to pull the trigger after all others have—he is forced by having a loaded handgun held to his head. His chamber is empty, so he and his ‘victim’ survive for the second round. Round after round Sébastien goes from literally vibrating to a look similar to what Christopher Walker had at his end of The Dear Hunter. What differs between the two men is that Sébastien has a level of anger that the already dead Walken lacked—if he had ever had the anger, it was long gone before we see his finale.

As each round passes, more gambling occurs since some of the athletes have been killed. Also, with each new round, an additional bullet is added to the chamber. The final duelists have 3 bullets to start. When they survive that, a fourth is added and so on. At this point, timing is everything.

The MC (Pascal Bongard) is awesome. He is the croupier of this game. He is either on massive amounts of cocaine or is just naturally over the top emotionally. He fidgets on what is basically a stepladder and shouts commands to the athletes: Raise the gun, spin the chamber, stop, pull the trigger when you see the light go on. He says exactly the same way for each round. Imagine going to a casino and standing at a roulette table with a dealer/croupier who was nervous and shouting: PLACE YOUR BETS, NO MORE BETS and so on.

In one way, these two men so define the movie that events before their meeting are fuzzy and events after only slightly less so. This is unfortunate for those others whose names (most are never given anyway) are forgotten and faces too. They at least do not distract from the interplay between unexpected athlete killer and master of ceremonies.

Before I sum this up for those who have paid attention to my warning, I want to go into an interesting linguistic issue that added a layer of chill for me.

When you learn textbook French, you are taught that nous = we, that vous = plural you or formal you, and that on = one or sometimes it. In conversational French, nous is almost never used; it is nearly always on. To pull the trigger is tirer (it would be tirez, pronounced the same as the infinitive) if you are using the proper conjugation. There is an idiom in French where ‘on tire un coup’ means to have sex. What happens in the shouted commands is that raise, spin, and stop are all with the proper form of vous conjugation. The last command is ‘when you see the light turn on on tire.’ This pun is nauseating (especially considering that orgasm in French is le petit mort, the little death). What this seems to say is that everyone in the room—athletes and gamblers—the entire ‘we’ are intimately involved, but it mainly means that all but one man in the ring is f****ed.

Summation without spoilers—for those who sort of paid attention

I HIGHLY recommend this film. However it comes with the roller coaster warnings: if you are pregnant, have a heart condition or other medical condition that would preclude you riding this ride or if you are unusually excitable . . . do not watch this film. Otherwise, strap yourself in and “enjoy”


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October 17, 2010
excellent review! I remember vividly how I rented this film and another French action film at the same time. I saw this first and it ruined my enjoyment of the action film; since this was just brilliantly simple and yet so intense. Thanks!
More 13 Tzameti reviews
review by . December 14, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Intense, Eerie and Smart Existential French Thriller!
   13 TZAMETI is a French film written and directed by Gela Babluani, which won numerous awards in the Sundance and Venice film festivals. “Tzameti” is the Georgian word that means the number “13”. Shot in its entirety in Black and White, the film takes "Russian Roulette" to the extreme and takes an uncompromising look at existentialism and cold human emotion. It is also wicked in its views on its metaphor for the global economy.       …
review by . April 27, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
"13" is a wonderfully economical thriller, clocking in at a friendly 95 minutes, which starts off slow and gentle, then gradually ricochet its tension towards the end. The main character Sébastien (played by the director's brother George Babluani) is a typical hard working roofer struggling to put food on the table for his family, so when he overhears conversations of easy Euro while toiling on his employer's roof his curiosity is naturally stirred. But before he knows what is happening he finds …
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Cast: Vania Vilers, Marie Thomas, Christophe Vandevelde, George Babluani, Augustin Legrand, Aurélien Recoing, Philippe Passon, Pascal Bongard, Fred Ulysse, Pascal Bougard, Nicolas Pignon, Jo Prestia, Jean-François Godon, Djalalli Amouche, Melchior Aquino, Nouredine Ameur, Makharadze Avtandil, Hervé Babadi, Liana Babluani, Likouna Babluani, Temur Babluani, Laurent Bariteau, Robert Beaupre, Philippe Beautier, Allan Benkaci, Claude Billois, Gilles Bongibault, Karim Bouguerra, Jean Borodine, Bernard Bouillon, Cédric Bouvier, Urbain Cancelier, Matéo Capelli, Alexandre Cardinalli, M. Chapion, Didier Champion, Didier Constant, Jean-Pierre Cormarie, Simon Cohen, Jean-Pierre Cottin, Christelle Coulée, Stéphane De Fraia, Benoît De La Porte, Bruno Daveze, Gérard Desestre, Jean-Michel Delaloche, Cédric Deprez, Benoît Deseze, Abed Djerrar, Louis Donval, Jean-Paul Dostone, Emmanuel Du Couldray, Irène Joseph Edouard, Fred Epaux, Daniel Faure, Serge Feuillard, Cyprien Fiasse, Laurent Ficher, Eric Fouchet, Marc-Antoine Frédéric, Christian Gaïtch, Olivier Galliano, Jacques Gallo, Patrice Garelli, Roland Gervet, Alain Girardot, Philippe Gluck, André Huet, Mohamed Houssain Ali, Franck Houis, Mohammed Ikrou, Daniel Isoppo, Pascal Ivancic, Franck Jean Elie, Claude Johann, Pierre Johann, Amaud Kakpeyen, Samba Kante, Philippe Kieffer, Jacques Lafolye, Nadir Lalouni, Daniel Lefort, François Legrand, Jean-Baptiste Legrand, Jean-Paul Lopez, Christelle Louessard, Joseph Malerba, Gaston Marcantoni, M. Marel, Jacqueline Martin, Bruno Mary, Mohammed Mazari, Patrick Michaëlis, Christian Nedjel, Didier Nobletz, Pascal Oumaklouf, Raphael Palma, Jérôme Paquette, Franck Pejoux, Jacques Petit, Patrick Pierron, Jean-Pierre Pivolot, Olivier Rabourdin, Hugo Pothirath, François Rimbau, Laurence Roque, Bouges Stéphane Rouqet, Jacques-Maurice Rousseau, Yann Schmidt, Eric Sebaki, Marc Sevestre, Philippe Smail, Jean-Luc Solal, Vasken Solakian, Grégory Songelin, Philippe Sorgel, Vincent Stupart, Jean-Pierre Surmonne, Christophe Tanchaud, François Tissot, M. Tipret, M. Triperet, M. Visse, Paul Van Den Houten, Philippe Villiers, Jérôme Wiggins
Director: Géla Babluani
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: July 28, 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Géla Babluani
Runtime: 1hr 33min
Studio: Palm Pictures / Umvd
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