13 (Tzameti)

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(Scene from Tzameti, right).

Sebastien (George Babluani) is a 20 year-old handyman who has been leading a hand-to-mouth existence since he arrived in France from Eastern Europe. While repairing a roof for a sickly senior citizen, he eavesdrops on a conversation where he hears what he misinterprets as a means of making easy money.

Then, after his elderly employer dies of an overdose of morphine still owing Sebastien a significant amount of his salary, the young immigrant steals a letter intended for his boss which promises the holder a sizable payday. He proceeds to follow a very secretive set of instructions which lead to a chateau in the countryside where he ends up in the clutches of a ring of ruthless gamblers who force him to participate in a high-stakes game of Russian roulette.

This sordid state of affairs sets the table for 13 (Tzameti), a grisly psychological thriller written and directed by Gela Babluani. The 26 year-old émigré from the former Soviet satellite of Georgia makes an unforgettable feature film debut, here, with this nerve-wracking test of the limits of human endurance. The movie might best be thought of as a French version of the Fight Club, for it revolves around a clique of crazies who enjoy betting on a deadly game of chance.
Shot in a shadowy black & white which only adds to the eery air of this already stark scenario, 13 walked away with the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Though definitely not designed for anyone with a weak stomach, this gritty, high attrition rate mindbender is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat from start to its shocking finale.

Excellent (4 stars). Unrated.  In French with subtitles.
Running time: 86 minutes.  Studio: Palm Pictures

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