Last night, Gothamist and Palm Pictures arranged an advance screening of 13 Tzameti at Cinema Village near Union Square and we wanted to thank everyone who came out to see the film. Watching it on the big screen with an audience filled with people on the edge of their seats for this French thriller was tons of fun.
A film written, directed and produced by first time director Gela Bablauni, the movie follows a young Georgian immigrant, Sebastien (played by Georges Bablauni), who works as a roofer to help support his family. When one of his clients, a man with mysterious visitors and an obvious drug problem, kills himself, Sebastien takes the opportunity to replace the man on what seems like an easy money making scheme. Except as he follows the convoluted instructions to the job taking trains, answering late night phone calls and holding up a number 13 for a cab driver, he realizes too late he’s become involved in an underworld roulette game.
Gothamist sat down for a chat with the director in the Palm Pictures offices earlier this week. He’s in town for the summer learning English and writing the script for an American remake of this film, which won awards at Venice and Sundance film festivals.
As a kid growing up in Tblisi, Georgia, Babluani said even though his father Temur Babluani is a renowned filmmaker, most of his movie watching came from TV. Some of his favorite movies include Raging Bull, The Godfather (but not II, or III, he insisted) and Rocco and His Brothers. All of these influences make a lot of sense just looking at 13 Tzameti, as Babluani shot it in black and white on 70 mm Cinemascope stock. This unusual visual style makes the film look a feel like an old movie rather than a new release.
As his own producer, Babluani felt his non-existent budget made it easier for him to stretch creatively. “I was very free to think of doing whatever I wanted to do because I didn’t have money,” he said. This also allowed him to lavish tons of time on the casting, spending months filling the movie with actors whose unfamiliar faces only enhance the mysteriousness of the story. Gela cast his younger brother, Georges as the lead Sebastien, and was pleased to give his working actor brother-in-law a major gig as well. “My brother in law, he’s really very big,” he explained. “But he didn’t work a lot because the stupid directors said it’s very difficult to get him in the frame.” In Babluani’s film, he cast him as one of the roulette handlers and the fact that he towers at least a head over everyone else on screen makes him especially menacing.
Babluani’s told us cryptically his next film, L’Ame perdue du Sommet, which also stars his younger brother Georges and was co-written with his father, is all about the preservation of tradition. Even though it may not be obvious right away what that means, we’ll definitely be going to see it because Babluani’s storytelling skills speak for themselves.
13 Tzameti opens this Friday at Film Forum.