On the 13th of each month, I'll be writing about a movie whose title contains the number 13.
Gela Babluani's 2005 debut feature 13 Tzameti is a bare-bones thriller with one big twist in the middle, a clever shift in tone and plot that effectively builds on the suspense created in the movie's first half, but eventually ends up seeming sort of empty. Babluani is basically uninterested in character development; his protagonist Sebastien (played by the director's brother, George) barely ever speaks and is often expressionless, and has a family life that's sketched out in vagaries. While fixing a roof for an apparently wealthy client, Sebastien hears about a clearly shady opportunity that's about to net his employer loads of money. When his employer dies, Sebastien swipes some paperwork and decides to take the opportunity for himself, whatever it is.
The mystery of what exactly Sebastien is getting himself into fuels the suspense of the movie's first half or so, and Babluani does a good job of creating an air of mystery and seediness (the movie is shot in gritty black and white). But once Sebastien arrives at his destination and learns what he's in for, there's an initial shock and then a slow letdown. The shady underground organization he finds himself involved with is far-fetched and absurd, and the plot seems designed only to move Sebastien where he needs to be, without any consideration to how these events might actually work out. It's hard to care about the character's well-being when we have no sense of who he is or why he does what he does.
Early in the film it seems like Babluani might be trying to say something about the desperation of immigrants or their willingness to do anything to provide for their families (Babluani and Sebastien are both Georgian, and the movie takes place in France). But there's too little context for it, and eventually any intriguing ideas are dropped in favor of repetitive gimmickry. Babluani is still pretty good at crafting suspense, and the movie is paced well so that it ends right about where it starts to become irritating. But what at first seems like a serious mind-bender turns out to be mostly insubstantial.