13 Tzameti (2007) dir. Gela Bubluani
Starring: George Bubluani
By Alan Bacchus
A couple years ago, 13 Tzameti, the first film from director Gela Bubluani, a Frenchman of Georgian heritage, seemed to gain instant cult status. It had the aura of controversy, a sick and twisted story of suicide games, Russian roulette, shot in stark and bleak black and white. Bubluani shows good promise with some salacious subject matter, but the film is so heavily weighted on a premise which is much too precarious to support a full fledged feature film.
A quiet unassuming labourer (Sebastien) is doing work on the roof of a young woman living with her grandfather in a quaint country home. He’s a nosey eavesdropper whom we catch spying on them and listening in on their conversations. He overhears of a package to arrive which could lead to a grand sum of money. One day, the grandfather dies suddenly of a drug overdose. Despite the work he’s done, since his employer has died he will not receive payment. Instead Sebastien takes the package in hopes of getting rich. There’s no money inside, but a note with detailed instructions – a veritable breadcrumb trail into the unknown. Unfortunately, the package turns out to be Sebastien’s pandora’s box.
Sebastien is lead into a game where he is the participant – a high stakes underground game of Russian Roulette – 40 men are gathered by a group of high-stakes bourgeoisie gamblers seeking the highest thrill – a civilized “Fight Club” There is no escape for Sebastien, he is part of the game for good. The contestants stand in a circle, load a bullet, spin the chamber and cock the pistol. Unlike “traditional” Russian Roulette, like we’ve seen in, say, ”The Deer Hunter” where the person is forced to shoot themselves, these contestants shoot the person beside them. Round by round goes by eliminating a few people at a time. Eventually it comes down to 2 people. The winner will receive a large sum of money.
There are a couple of fundamental faults with the film. The writer/director hangs his hat on the premise and the sole image of a group of men pointing guns at each other – aka a ‘Mexican standoff’. Indeed the first time we see it, it’s startling. But the one trick pony uses up its cinematic energy quickly, as each subsequent firing scene is the same as the previous. We know Sebastien will make it to the end – and most likely win and we know all the other characters will be killed off. So, therefore, there’s no suspense. And to bring back the comparison to “The Deer Hunter” – whose Roulette scenes tower in comparison – we are emotionally invested in those characters because they are voluntarily shooting at themselves. There’s a choice to make. The Tzameti men have no choice or even a strategy, its blind luck for them and the gamblers. Once they’re in, they’re in for the long haul. And so, as I said, all suspense and tension is zapped from the story.
Bubluani never even tries to sympathize or get to know the other characters - the “Deer Hunter” had about 2 hours of character development before unveiling its roulette scenes. It’s all played without emotion or self-reflection. Bubluani was so enamoured with the roulette, he forgot the simplest rule of filmmaking – tell a good story. Unfortunately, there is no story here.
That being said, I’m curious to see what the director’s next films will be. If he irons out some kinks in his work, there may be a good filmmaker here. Use your own discretion.