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Published January 6th, 2006 | by Michelle Thomas

13 (Tzameti) Review

Classification: 15 Director: George Babluani Rating: 4.5/5

And I quote: ‘black and white films are generally boring and (people) only say they like them to look cool’. Ed Colley, wash your mouth out with soap! I watched Rebecca and The Maltese Falcon over Christmas and they still wipe the floor with most films released in 2005… but this review is about a NEW black and white film which, frankly, rocks.

13 is the story of Sebastian (Babluani), a first generation immigrant who lives with his barely-scraping-by family. Sebastian does odd jobs and has no prospects, so is pleased to be offered work fixing the roof of M. Godon (Passon). He soon realizes that all is not well when his employer collapses in the street, and the housekeeper, instead of calling an ambulance, smacks Godon round the face, drags him to his feet, swears at him and forces him to walk. Godon is a morphine addict, and dies of an overdose before Sebastian can be paid. Sebastian has been eavesdropping on Godon’s conversations, however, and hears something that seems to promise easy money. On impulse, he follows the instructions meant for Godon, and finds himself a pawn in a terrible game where the stake is his very life…

13 is, simply, awesome. It’s a wonderfully taut economical thriller, clocking in at a butt-friendly 95 minutes (hurrah!), which starts off slow and gentle, fixing the roof, domestic grumbles, and then ratchets up the tension until the end it grips you like a vise. Whether or not these games are real, the inhumanity of the protagonists, and the utter awfulness of the situation that Sebastian finds himself in are totally believable (quibbles like disposal of the bodies notwithstanding). And just as you relax, it throws in a final cruel twist.

Unlike certain other directors, who shall be nameless, Babluani doesn’t make the mistake of thinking we need a backstory and (yawn) character arc for every flipping supporting actor and bit player in the film. We find out almost nothing about the characters, including Sebastian; information is on a strictly need to know basic only, and doled out in dribs and drabs. Sebastian himself doesn’t want to know what’s going on – the more he knows, the more danger he’s in.

Babluani is the 26-year old son of a Georgian director, and the iinfluence of Soviet era classics is clear in this his debut feature. He and his cinematographer Tariel Meliava have produced a beautifully brutal film, gorgeously lit, quite literally painting with light; he’s also assembled a suitably thuggish, unattractive cast of players, contrasted with the gamblers, with their veneer of civilized urbanity, cheerfully betting on men’s lives like the ancient Romans. Because we’re never given any extraneous information, we have no idea why anyone would agree to participate in the game, other than the (fairly dim) hope of making money.

At less than 100 minutes, 13 still packs in loads of story, and is a startling, confident joy to watch.

DVD extras: Interview with cast and crew

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