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The rules of the game
A region 2 DVD review of 13 / TZAMETI by Slarek
 

If ever there was a film that warned of the dangers of committing yourself to an agreement without reading the small print first then Tzameti is it. There's a strong temptation to reveal none of the plot details and simply encourage you with all my heart to see this film and make every attempt to shield yourself from information about its content. It's not that revealing it would put you off (well at least I hope it wouldn't), but a large part of the extraordinary grip the film exercises over its audience definitely arises from a genuine fear – I might even venture to say terror – over what will happen next. This inevitably makes the first viewing the best, and an unprepared encounter is always going to prove a superior experience to one tainted by knowledge of how events will unfold. I'll admit that narrative and character tradition do add a degree of inevitability to some aspects, but even with that in mind I spent my first viewing of the film leaning forward at an idiotic angle and chewing my thumbnails down to the bare skin. Yeah, it's THAT tense.

So where do I go from here? Although I believe the best way to view the film is to go in cold, I am aware that before even hiring a film out most of you will have heard about it, read about it, seen a few suggestive stills and maybe even a trailer or a few choice extracts. If so then you'll already have lost your virginal status by the time you get to see it. I also know that I could encourage a proportion of you to see it precisely by revealing a few of the choice plot details, and how the hell do you properly discuss or evaluate the film without doing so? So here's the deal. If you know little or nothing about the film and want to keep it that way and go in cold, then click here to skip to the technical specs of the disc. If you're prepared to get your knowledge wet – and I promise to keep the revelations to a minimum – then by all means proceed.

Here's as much plot as you need, or should be given. Young Sebastién, the son of an impoverished Georgian family, is hired to repair the roof of a house owned by morphine-addicted Gordon. When Gordon dies unexpectedly of an overdose, Sebastién loses his sorely needed work, but on finding a letter sent to Gordon that that is linked to a mysterious but highly paid job, he decides to go in his place. After following a series of complex instructions designed to throw off anyone who might be tailing him, he arrives at an isolated country house, where he becomes an unwilling participant in a game with deadly consequences.

It takes almost half an hour to reach this point, but it's time filled with intrigue and suggestion, from the snatches of conversations heard by Sebastién through the damaged roof to the watch being kept on the house and its inhabitants by initially unidentified and possibly sinister figures. Sebastién's journey to his unknown destination is particularly well handled, a low key cat-and-mouse game with closely pursuing authorities whom Sebastién remains blissfully unaware of. But once he reaches his destination, intrigue gives way in the blink of an edit of sheer, unrelenting tension, and I mean unrelenting – I've had my share of five minute terrors, but sitting through one that lasts over a third of the film is a genuinely breathless experience.

Tzameti is a pared-to-the-bone thriller, a beautifully designed exercise in audience wind-up that still manages to integrate a subtextual layer – one concerned with the exploitation of the financially desperate by morally bankrupt rich – without disrupting the surface tension. Though it lacks any startling narrative turns, comes to a somewhat inevitable conclusion and features at its core an activity that ewas an integral part of a more widely seen film from almost thirty years ago (I'm not going to name it here), director Géla Bubluani still manages to invigorate the material to such a degree that it feels like a completely new experience. And it still has its share of tension-raising twists, as the stakes are repeatedly and unexpectedly upped in effectively screw-turning fashion.

Shot in scope and in true black and white (this was lit for mono, not merely printed up from a colour original), the film looks gorgeous and is very well played by one and all – when characters are frightened here, their terror really registers. Of course, the inevitable down side to any film that relies in part on keeping its audience guessing is that no subsequent viewing is ever going to match that first one, but the sheer craftsmanship of the director and his team ensures that second and third viewings bring their own rewards. Whether you choose to buy or rent the film is very much up to you, of course, but the one thing I would urge everyone to do, without hesitation and without delay, is see it.

sound and vision

The anamorphic 2.35:1 picture here is very impressive, boasting a very good tonal range, excellent detail and contrast, and rock solid black levels. Some minor grain is evident and a few compression artefacts can be seen in a couple of areas of single shade, but on the whole this is an excellent job that serves the film's moody visuals handsomely.

Both stereo and 5.1 soundtracks are available, but there's no real contrast here – the 5.1 track is louder, fuller, and is an essential element of the film's overpowering atmosphere of dread.

extra features

No commentary track, but with its limited locations and stripped-down narrative this is not a film that is in need of one. What we do have is an Interview With Gela (19:05), in which director Géla Bubluani discusses his inspiration for the film, his own Georgian past, the making of the film, the choice to shoot in black and white, the film's win at Venice and future projects.

There is also a a brief Interview with George (6:27), George being George Babluani, who plays Sebastién and is the director's younger brother, a working relationship that forms the basis of the first question asked of him. He also discusses his first acting role and the acclaim it has brought him, and specific aspects of the shoot. Both interviews are in French with optional English subtitles.

summary

Tzameti is a wonderfully devised exercise is grinding an audience into their seats and one hell of a debut feature. I've said it already but it really is worth repeating: if you can go into this film with little or no knowledge of its content then you will reap the benefits. But even if you do have some fore knowledge then still rush to see it – I was in this position and it still managed to wind me up something silly.

Revolver's DVD looks great, sounds good, and although somewhat light on extras is still recommended. The replay value may be not quite what it might be for some other movies, but a second viewing still has its pleasures, in the handling, the detail and the performances. It's also worth owning just to get a few friends round and watch them while they climb the wall.

13
Tzameti

France/Georgia 2005
93 mins
director
Géla Babluani
starring
George Babluani
Pascal Bongard
Aurélien Recoing
Fred Ulysse
Nicolas Pignon
Vania Vilers

DVD details
region 2
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
French
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with director
Interview with lead actor
distributor
Revolver
release date
Out now
review posted
1 May 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews