Monday, April 17, 2006

13 Tzameti (2006)

Gela Babluani has crafted a real attention-getter for his debut film. It starts as an offbeat slice of naturalism, as a Georgian immigrant works on a roofing job for a drug-addicted old man. Intimations of odd things on the margins are abound, though (who's that in the car watching the old man's house? who's trying to intercept his mail, and why?). When the old man dies suddenly, the immigrant comes into possession of a train ticket and a hotel reservation, knowing only that these things were to help the old man make a lot of money. More, you should not know -- suffice to say that the young immigrant gets involved in something for which he could not have prepared. The observational style of the first half becomes necessarily grimy and sweaty in the second half; it observes things it should not be observing, and the high-contrast black & white cinematography catches every dirt smudge and bead of sweat. The high tension of the scenario is significant, but the human dimension remains thanks to some singular acting by all involved. The participants are believable in the situation, especially George Babluani, Gela's brother, as the unfortunate immigrant and Aurelien Recoing (unrecognizably bulked-up) as another, more gung-ho participant. There's obvious metaphorical material here -- the debasement of the immigrant class and doing whatever it takes to achieve a measure of success, as well as the idea of the ruling class exploiting those below them -- but it's left to simmer instead of being shoved in our faces. Though it does get docked points for taking the inevitable route to the downbeat ending, 13 Tzameti is a riveting first work.

Grade: B


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