Wednesday, January 18, 2012
13 Tzameti -- gambling with the poor
Director: Géla Babluani, 2005. (NR)
Set in France and filmed in cold black and white, 13 Tzameti feels more Eastern European than French. That is perhaps not surprising since it is directed by a Georgian. Not only did he direct this debut feature but he wrote it and cast his brother in the main role. Quite a family project, if not a family-friendly film. And with the cold nihilistic cynical themes, this is certainly not one to watch with the kids.
Tagged as a mystery thriller, this movie breaks neatly into two halves. The first half is a mystery, the second is more suspense. Sebastien (George Babluani) is a poor roofer who lives with his parents. So poor, he carries his ladder and tools around on a bicycle. While working on a job for a customer, he overhears the man say that he has a job that will make him rich if he survives, and that he is waiting for a letter instructing him what to do. When the man dies and the letter surprisingly falls into his possession, Sebastien decides to take the man's place. What follows in the first half of the film is Sebastien obeying oblique insructions from unseen men. He is unwittingly delving into a rich man's game even while the police are following his trail.
When Sebastien arrives at his destination he finally realizes he may have made a mistake. But it is too late to withdraw. He has become one of 13 tzameti. The trailer and even the DVD box gives away the key plot point, and I won't repeat that. But once the mystery is over the second half of the film descends into a game of greed and gambling.
13 Tzameti has good intentions and an interesting premise. Sadly, Babluani does not develop the characters so we cannot connect to them. They are as cold and aloof as the game, and so we find ourselves simply not caring for Sebastien or anyone else for that matter.
When it is all over, the film leaves us not wondering whether Sebastien made the right decisions. We know he did not. Rather, it leaves us pondering the divide between the poor and the rich, and the behaviors that stem from these castes. For the poor, the question arises: what will they do for money? Will they risk life itself for the promise of a payout? Is that a gamble worth taking? Certainly life is more valuable than riches and money. There is the promise of eternity, the life hereafter. We cannot take riches with us. That was the point of one of Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Lk. 12:13-21). Yet, it is true that poverty often spawns the kind of recklessness that thinks more of today's meal than tomorrow's memory.
And then there are the rich. Here the rich men are superior to the tzameti. They are not only greedy for more, gambling with what they do have. Greed is decried in Scripture. "The greedy bring ruin to their households" and "the greedy stir up conflict" says the writer of proverbs (Prov. 15;27, 28:25). Greed was one of the evil thoughts listed by Jesus (Mk. 7:21-22). And the apostle Paul said that the greedy would not inherit the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).
More than this though, the rich also deny the dignity of the poor, discounting the value of human life. Riches can cause this kind of behavior, encouraging this posture of superiority. But it is unbiblical. All men are created equal, regardless of race or riches (Rom. 10:22). We are equal in sin (Rom 3:23), equal in need of a savior, and equal in the offer of forgiveness from Jesus (Rom. 3:22). Whether we are rich or poor, we would do well to become one of his followers!
at 9:00 PM