Thursday, January 7, 2010

#2 - Dangerous Games: "13 Tzameti" (2005) and "Intacto" (2001)

13 Tzameti, directed by Géla Babluani, and Intacto, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, are two European thrillers from the early 2000's about young men pulled into events run by international networks of powerful and deadly people.

Poster pictures from here and here.

Both films are incredibly high-concept, sometimes straining credibility and bordering on ridiculousness. Yet great control over tone,  as well as excellent production and performance,s make these extreme scenarios work.

"Tzameti" is "13" in the Georgian language, and the film concerns the story of a young Georgian immigrant in France, Sébastien (George Babluani, the director's brother). He works hard at his construction job in order to support his near-impoverished family. While repairing a roof, Sébastien observes his employer behaving very strangely. From this mundane beginning, Sébastien is drawn into a manipulative situation neither he nor the viewer expects (that is, if you avoid trailers, synopses, even posters - don't look at ANYTHING!).

Intacto can be considered more of a supernatural concept disguised as a thriller, depending on what you believe luck is. It begins with a falling out between two major players in the luck exchange: Samuel (Max von Sydow) and Federico (Eusebio Poncela). Afterward, we are introduced to the main character, Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the only survivor of a plane crash. Due to his survivor's luck, he becomes a prime candidate for recruitment into the luck game - a gambling ring doggedly pursued by police investigator Sara (Mónica López).

The high-stakes machinations in both of these films escalate into scenes of terror. The forest run scene in Intacto is particularly noteworthy, and the lightbulb in 13 Tzameti and use of photos and touch in Intacto can all be nightmare fuel for the active imagination. (In fact, I did get a bit of a nightmare from the latter.) Alliances and vendettas are formed, while the intially helpless main characters gradually become more active and independent actors as they learn more about their situation.

13 Tzameti is shot entirely in black-and-white, adding to the film's brutal minimalism. Intacto is also stylishly shot, but in rich colors, incorporating sweeping shots and vast horizontal compositions in some key scenes. Intacto bustles with more sound and energy, while 13 Tzameti quietly builds up before sudden moments blasting in sound and tension, overturning everything with blunt force.

Some have taken the events and characters in 13 Tzameti to stand in for the exploitation of immigrants and other workers. Nearly all the characters are purposefully made ciphers, with only a telling clue or gesture as hints to their personality. Plot points are pushed by actions in the present. In contrast, the pasts of the characters in Intacto are very important to the plot. While Intacto may have less global and existential relevance than 13 Tzameti, it does execute its police investigation plot in a better manner.

Watch 13 Tzameti first before Intacto. This not only provides a cool stylistic progression from stark black-and-white to color, but also keeps plot points more unpredictable. What do these characters really win in the end? How would you fare in their situation? That's for you to wonder about at the end of this thriller double-feature.

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- The English-language remake of 13 Tzameti (called 13, also directed by Babluani), is set to release later this year, so I'd advise seeing the original before promotion for the remake spoils the experience.
- Intacto director Fresnadillo later directed 28 Months Later, a solid sequel to 28 Days Later that coasted over its plot holes through great direction and performances. Fresnadillo is at time of posting attached to the film adaptation of the excellent video game Bioshock.
- Through the internet, I found out that the Bollywood film Luck steals a scene and situation from 13 Tzameti, and has plot elements similar to both of the films in thise double feature.

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