A remarkable debut feature from Georgian-born writer director Géla
13 (Tzameti) is a taut thriller that centers on a handyman working
on the home of an older morphine addict. Sébastien (the director's brother
Georges Babluani) lives with his immigrant Georgian family in near poverty. As
the film opens, he is working on the home of the dissolute Jean-François Godon
(Philippe Passon). Godon and his home are also being watched by a mysterious
group of men. When a letter arrives with a train ticket and a hotel reservation,
Godon discusses the matter and its promise of a great deal of cash within
earshot of Sébastien. The next day, Godon overdoses leaving the worker with
no pay and no job. Sébastien happens upon the letter and decides
to impersonate Godon.

 Therein lies the intriguing set up for a well-made suspenseful drama that
easily could be seen as a metaphor for the vagaries of life. I do not want to spoil
the surprises in the film but suffice it to say that Sébastien ends up in a situation
that involves gambling and extremely high stakes. There's a slight repetitive
quality to the second act, but that's perhaps as it should be as the stakes grow
higher. Babluani manages to ratchet up the tension simply and efficiently.

 The performances are all fine, with the director's brother Georges
shouldering the largest burden and impressing as he goes from callow youth
to jaded realist.
13 (Tzameti) has already been a hit on the festival circuit,
earning prizes at Venice in 2005 and Sundance in 2006. It is a strong first
film that marks the director as one to watch.

                  Rating:                         B+
                  Running time:              86 mins.
13 (Tzameti)
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.