Tzameti: A Thriller about Thrill: Gazala Meena

 13 Tzameti is an acclaimed and highly talked over  film. This film occupies first position in the list of  Director Anurag Kashyap’s top ten favourite films. Anurag has requested all to watch this great cinema work before dying. Gazala has written this analytical commentary on 13 Tzameti for Tirchispelling.

By Gazala Meena

A thriller about thrill Tzameti (13), the directorial debut of Gela Babluani, spins our senses through lethal rounds of Russian Roulette leaving the irony of chance and the perversion of pleasure to unfold. The narrative, at the onset, engages with desperation; the desperation of a Georgian immigrant Sebastein living in France, who is struggling to make ends meet doing irregular construction jobs and the desperation of Godon, Sebastein’s temporary employer, a morphine addict whose monetary savings are on the verge of exhaustion. While, Sebastein’s immediate dependence is on the payment from Godon; Godon hopes to make a large sum of money by doing something which he defines as “It worked last time. That was last time”. However, Godon is unsure whether the opportunity to do that ‘something’ will come by or not. This ‘something’, an apparent mysterious job is what gives motion and suspense to the narrative involving games; the game of chase and the game of chance (gambling). With Godon dead due to an overdose, an anxious Sebastein steals the letter concerning the mysterious job which is also of immense interest to the police authorities. Following the leads from the letter an oblivious Sebastein embarks on an unknown quest for sudden riches, dodging the authorities on the way. On his arrival to the destination Sebastien, is no longer Sebastein, he is Tzameti, the Georgian word for 13; a number not a living being. To his utter horror the mysterious job unravels as a deadly game of Russian Roullette where expensive bets are placed on and placed by men. A shaken 13 realizing that he is on a one way track, lines up in a circle with other numbers, most of whom are on a high dose of morphine to be able to withstand what is being asked of them, that is, to shoot or get shot; on a stage like setting, a platform walled on three sides, as the audience wait for the bulb to light and the shots to be fired. Between pointing a gun to someone’s head and a gun pointed to one’s own head the players grapple with conflicting emotions: the ethical question of killing someone and the fear of being killed. It’s all a matter of a few minutes before the moment comes when one’s own life and the other’s is not in one’s hand. It all is a matter of chance, luck and fate as the cylinders with bullets less than their capacity are spun and shots are fired. Multiple rounds are played before the unlucky numbers fall to the ground with bloodied heads and the lucky number becomes the sole survivor, disillusioned on what to react to: winning the gamble, having killed people or just being alive. Irony is underlined as 13, which for irrational reasons is considered an unlucky number, turns out to be the lucky sole survivor, however, in the end becomes a victim of greed and is shot and left to die on a moving train.

The director skilfully creates a cold, dark, grim and real world in minimalist fashion and manages to dramatize malicious thrill and helplessness in a contained manner. Throughout the film, the director keeps the camera close to the actors, primarily using close up, medium close up and extreme close up, because it is the actor’s bodies where action takes place. The viewer is put in close proximity of the actors so that he/she is forced to read the gestures and feel the emotional fluctuations. Crafted in black and white this film goes beyond the anticipation, anxiety, adrenaline rush, forcing the viewer to the edge of one’s seat; it compels the viewer to acknowledge the irony of chance, question the nature of entertainment and the mocking limitation of choices and above all forces the viewers to reflect upon the cruel culture of gambling. The quintessential element of this film is its black and white colour which symbolizes a dichotomy. The dichotomy between win and loss, life and death, owner and owned, choice and no choice, “haves” and “have-not”,  thrill seeker and thrill giver, pleasure and pain so on and so forth. Tzameti situates this dichotomy within the context of entertainment, a particular kind involving a game of chance (gambling) which is bloody and brutal in nature.

13 Tzameti (2005)

13 Tzameti (2005)

Gambling on blood sports, like horse racing, dog fights, cock fights, bull fights, and gladiatorial combats has been going on since time immemorial. While, tracing the nature of gambling during various historical periods with their specific social, political and economic structures; the similarity between the outcome, volition and choice of the actors and the similarity between the audience (gamblers/bettors) becomes evident. In slave societies a slave was the personal property of the property owning class (ruler, nobility) and was coerced to participate in gladiatorial bouts; he had no will (he had to play even if he did not want to), neither did he have a choice (he had to kill to stay alive) and the outcome was either life or death. And this cycle would continue until the slave dies. Under feudalism a serf though not the personal property of the property owning class (ruler, nobility, landlords) was ultimately tied to their property for livelihood. A disproportional economic system co-opted the serf into gambling games leaving him with no will and no choice, while the outcome for him was either death or life with temporary and limited material gains. In a capitalist society emerged an unequal economic system which thrives on the exploitation of labour of the working class by the class that owns the means of production. Possessing nothing but their labour (life), the existence of the working class is reduced to the one of instability and uncertainty which propels them into being pawns in a game, without any will or choice, the pleasure of which is the prerogative of the elite few. While the outcome that these pawns are left with is similar to their historical antecedents, that is, either death or temporary and limited material gains. However, this outcome is less a matter of one’s fate, rather it is rooted in the fate designed for them by the existing economic realities.

Tzameti delves into the dynamics of a deadly game of gambling in a capitalist society, where there are two classes of players involved. One is the active participant who plays for his life; and the other, the passive participant who puts enormous amount of money at stake while, playing for the experience of a vulgar thrill. One participates as the actor/entertainer and the other as the audience/entertained. While, one group struggles with ethical questions, mental and emotional trauma and fear of death; the other group’s senses are tickled with the perverse revelry induced by the performance: a performance in which fear and guilt simultaneously dance on ghostly faces to the bone chilling music of rotating cylinders and deafening bang of gun shots and the stage turns red with blood vomiting bodies and faces turn white of those still standing frozen. While one group has nothing to gain (except the so called lucky one who wins an amount of money which comes with an expiry date) but their lives to lose; the other group has money to win/ money to lose; but above all a sadistic pleasure to relish. The film ends with the lead actor, Sebastein, after being shot somehow manages to sit on a window side seat of a moving train, which it seems is taking him to his death. The moving train is symbolic of a cruel system which moves on even with the burden of dead bodies.

 “Gambling is the son of avarice and the father of despair”


Gazala Meena

Gazala Meena

Ghazala Meena is a PHD research scholar in School of International Studies in JNU, New Delhi. She is currently residing in  Japan for her research work.


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