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13 Tzameti

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Trailer for "13 Tzameti"

Filmed in arresting widescreen black and white, 13 Tzameti can be enjoyed on the simplest level as an arthouse thriller. Sebastien (Georges Babluani), an impoverished young immigrant from Georgia working as a roofer in rural France, overhears his employer speaking about a letter he has received. This letter contains instructions that will guide him to a lucrative job, albeit one with an undefined sense of danger. When Sebastien is not paid the money he desperately needs, he steals the letter and sets off on the path it details. As he is drawn deeper to his final destination, both our curiosity and our dread increase: We lack Sebastien’s hope that something may come out of whatever awaits him.

Arthouse buffs may suspect that Sebastien will never reach his goal, but this isn’t that kind of movie. I won’t describe what he finds other than to say that the film then switches into a different kind of intensity that would seem impossible for director Gela Babluani to sustain—but he does.

Only 26 years old (though with the benefit of having a renowned Georgian filmmaker for a father), Babluani’s debut is impressively taut and controlled. You might find yourself comparing parts of it to the work of Bresson, Polanski, Antonioni or Wenders, yet it never seems to be copying any of them. Rather, Babluani seems to have succeed in capturing a droning nightmare that must surely have metaphorical roots in his own history of watching the collapse of Communism, so applauded by the western world, reduce his homeland to civil war and a swamp of chaos, greed and corruption.

Winner of the Best First Feature Film at the 2005 Venice Festival and the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at Sundance this year, 13 Tzameti will be remade as an American feature. It’s highly unlikely that the result will be nearly as impressive as this. See it now before you have to worry about your perception being diluted by an inferior copy.