“Your man kills a third and there’ll be a bonus for you”
If you desire to see an edge of your seat thriller, definitely take the opportunity to go downtown to the Market Arcade Theatre and check out the enthralling, French-language 13 Tzameti, while you still have the opportunity. This film is a debut that any veteran director would love to have included in his/her filmography. A minimalist film in terms of dialogue and set, the real magic lies in the performances. Each character has his life on the line at some point during the proceedings, whether it physically, monetarily, or emotionally. The closest film I can compare it to is the final half hour of Eli Roth’s Hostel, only with tension amped up to the extreme, and the gratuity of gore and sex turned down to an almost non-entity. By showing reactions to and only short bursts of violence, director Géla Babluani has created a master-class in the school of less is more. Whereas Roth went for the outlandish, gross-out effects, Babluani sticks with reality and it is that much more effective as a result.
While all the acting is top-notch in terms of expressing the weight of the world trouble laid on almost every character’s shoulders, our star Sébastien, played by George Babluani, really stands out. He starts out as a young laborer, capable and taking pride in the job he is doing. His family at home really needs the money this job will soon afford, hopefully to take some pressure off his gimp brother who seems to only have time to sleep when he is not hard at work. Sébastien soon realizes that his employer is not well, mentally or financially. He overhears a conversation while working on his employer’s roof that, besides fronting the advance for his construction work, the old man really doesn’t have the money for anything else, and is not sure he can do the task awaiting him again. This task is given through a striped envelope containing a train ticket and paid hotel room. Circumstances soon play out which leave young Sébastien broke and in possession of said letter, whose conversations around seem to show a bountiful of wealth upon receipt. The desperate times call for him to go in his employer’s place, without any knowledge of what he will have to do, in order to bring some money back to his family.
George Babluani gives an emotionally draining performance, transforming from a hopeful boy with work to a broken heap of nerves, fighting for his life knowing that his only hope for survival will be to kill at least one other human being. As the film’s trailer showed, the task at hand is joining an underground gambling event of Russian Roulette, with a twist. Your gun is pressed against the back of the head of the man standing next to you. When the light above turns on, everyone shoots; there can be only one victor after the three rounds and final duel. But don’t look in the others’ eyes; it is much harder to pull the trigger on someone whose soul is bare than the matted down, sweat drenched hair motionlessly dead ahead. These actors are battling the nerves to not only stay alive, but also deal with being a murderer in order to survive. Babluani, the director, shows us such realism that you almost believe these men have real guns in their hands, playing God while their handlers wait in the adjacent room to see if their millions have been betted on the luckiest man. The final duel is painful to watch, seeing these men resolved to tears and a need of forgiveness knowing what they will have to do.
While the contest is the crux of the film, it is not the only trial needing to be overcome. We have police on the hunt for the hideout to put a stop to the games and we have handlers with novices who have never shot a gun—they must put the unknown players in because they will be fined if not, and if for some reason that person brought the police, they’d be considered the rat if they left before a raid. The stakes are high, the outcome always looking bleak. As a viewer, you have no idea where the story will take you next, no one is special and everyone’s life hangs by a thread. The gorgeous black and white cinematography helps keep you on edge, viewing through sharp angles and thick grain, adding to the tension and heart-pounding action unraveling itself on screen. I almost can’t wait to see the Hollywood remake, which has been recently greenlit for development, just to see how they ruin an amazing feat of cinema.
13 Tzameti 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Georges Babluani in 13 TZAMETI, a Palm Pictures release 2006.
 Aurelien Recoing in 13 TZAMETI, a Palm Pictures release 2006.