George Babluani as Sébastien
Pascal Bongard as Le maître de cérémonie
Aurélien Recoing as Jacky
Fred Ulysse as Alain
13 Tzameti (Tzameti being Georgian for “13” – the director is a Georgian immigrant to France) tells the story of Sébastien (Georges Babluani, the director Géla’s brother) and a series of events that lead him into a situation he can’t escape. Sébastien is a handyman/roofer for the Godon family who also has money problems. When Jean-François Godon (Philippe Passon) receives a strange striped envelope (one he’d been expecting but appeared anxious about responding to), he promptly overdoses and kills himself. Sébastien intercepts the letter when Jean-François’s wife leaves it by a window. Inside, he discovers train tickets and a hotel reservation in Paris. He decides to follow them, remembering that he overheard Jean-François saying that following the instructions previously had led to substantial money. Meanwhile, the police discover that the letter is missing and begin to pursue him.
At the hotel, Sébastien receives a mysterious phone call directing him to a train station and locker. He’s told to follow the instructions in the locker and take the objects inside with him as well to leave the train a stop early (inadvertently evading the cops). He hops a taxi from there and asks to be taken to a location that turns out to be a crossroads in the middle of the woods. There, a stranger in a car holds up the number 13, matching a card in his envelope. The man takes him to a house in the middle of the woods where he discovers the true challenge that awaits him.
Imagine, if you will, standing in a circle with 12 other men. An audience of rich men is in front of you, each betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on one of you. You are each given a revolver and a bullet. You are told to load the bullet into the chamber, hold the gun up, and spin the chamber. You are then told to place the gun at the back of the head of the man in front of you in the circle. The man behind you does the same, all the way around. You are told to watch a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. When it turns on, you are to fire the gun once at the man in front of you. If you do not do this, you will be forced to by a separate man, holding a loaded pistol. If the gun fires, killing the man in front of you, he’s out. If it does not, he remains…for the next round. How would you feel? What would you do? And how long would you be able to survive as the danger increased and the game went on?
13 Tzameti is not strictly horror. It’s more of a thriller with light dashes of crime drama thrown in. Even though we’re talking about a movie that involves 13 men shooting guns at the back of each other’s head, the blood is relatively minimal. What make this movie work are the subtleties and nuances of such a simple concept. The black-and-white style of the film serves to underline the moral principles at play, bubbling beneath the surface, while also giving the film a nicely dark and intense feel. The leader of the game yells orders with a fascist-like voice, allowing no one to break rules and adding tension. One of the players begins to progressively lose his mind, culminating in needing shots of morphine to continue on in the game. Multiple frames of the onlookers are shown discussing the game, who they’re betting on, if other people are getting cuts, etc., taking you deeper and deeper into the mind of a person who would put money on something like this. Music is distinctly minimal during the film, allowing the action to rightly take hold of the viewer. Finally, the film culminates in a rather surprising and layered ending.
Most of all 13 Tzameti is carried by the performances of Babluani and another man, Aurélien Recoing, playing Jacky (man number 6 to Sébastien’s 13). Babluani delivers a very effective performance, carrying the movie quite well in his first movie role. The audience sympathizes with him and sees him as a good man thrust into a world of chaos and wonders if he will be able to survive. Babluani is believable (trying to escape, showing fear in playing the game, showing anger at the attitudes of the people in control) and the audience never feels like he is really even acting because he appears so natural.
Recoing’s Jacky, on the other hand, is the foil to Sébastien. Jacky is a mean and taunting veteran player, managed in the game by his own older brother. The viewer is initially supposed to despise him as emblematic of what the game can do to someone’s personality, however Recoing adds layers to Jacky showing him alternately angry at those betting on the game, reluctance to continue playing and growing progressively more frustrated at his brother goading him on. About the only problem with Recoing is that his character feels underused, but at the same time one cannot think of a way in which he could be shoehorned in further. Both men immediately steal any scene in which they appear and the movie is better for them.
Overall, 13 Tzameti is an original thriller that takes a decidedly clear-cut plot and adds nuance and personality to it. The French definitely still have a few tricks up their sleeves.