13 Tzameti
Written and directed by Gela Babluani

Starring Georges Babluani


13 Tzameti

What is it with distributors? The French/Georgian film "13" has been retitled for American theatres as "13 Tzameti," without noting that tzameti is Georgian for, guess what, 13. A reversal of Edward Yang's great 2000 film "Yi Yi," ("One, One"), retitled for us as "A One and A Two," "13 Tzameti" now carries the weight of many hands with too little to do. Oh, well; I got it off my chest.

"13 Tzameti" is the work of a first-time Georgian filmmaker, writer and director Gela Babluani, now working in France, and it seems to me very much a story out of the Caucasus rather than France. A young man, Sebastien (Georges Babluani, the director's younger brother), who lives in a small French city, is repairing the roof of a wealthy man. He overhears a conversation about a mysterious event that will begin when a certain letter arrives in the mail. However, the man dies, his lawyer tells Sebastien that he will not be paid for his work, and then Sebastien spots the letter and steals it, not knowing what's inside.

What's inside is a first-class train ticket and some instructions. He takes the train and is met by men who whisk him away to a chateau in the woods, where he's put in a room with twelve other men, some of whom apparently know what's going to happen but will not tell Sebastien. In another part of the chateau a group of wealthy men are putting up money to bet on the event.

And then he, and we, find out just what it is: He is to participate in a bizarre game of Russian Roulette, in which each man is given a revolver and one bullet, placed in a circle with his gun pointed at the head of the man next to him, told to spin the cylinder and, on a signal, to fire the gun. A few of the men die; that is Round One. The bets made by the wealthy men - hundreds of thousands of Euros - are collected from the losers and paid off to the winners, and the bettors get ready for Round Two.

In Round Two the survivors are required to put two bullets in their guns, spin the cylinders and fire on the signal again. I will not go further, though obviously the film does. Babluani holds his merciless point of view without even the slightest nod toward humanism here; he's filmed it in black and white that underlines the story without pity. I was both repelled and enthralled by his boldness; the film could probably be read as a jeremaiad against capitalism and its vultures, but I think Babluani is more interested in just stripping away all our illusions about civilization. He does a very good job of it, too.