Star – George Babluani
Genre – World Cinema > Psycho Thriller
Run Time – 93 minutes
Certificate – 18
Country – USA
Amazon – £3.91 DVD
Awards – 10 Wins & 3 Nominations
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So "Tzameti", the Georgian word for thirteen, a number associated with bad luck in the west, especially for the poor guy in the lead of this low budget but interesting Psycho Thriller. It’s from France (subtitles) and not the type of film that would come to your attention but certainly worth seeing if you are a foreign film fan (have no problem with subtitles) and looking for something edgy and hand over your eyes stuff. The closing twenty minutes of this one are like cutting the red wire on the bomb when you know it’s the blue wire you should cut.
George Babluani ... Sébastien
Aurélien Recoing ... Jacky
Pascal Bongard ... Le maître de cérémonie
Fred Ulysse ... Alain
Nicolas Pignon ... Le parrain
Vania Vilers ... Mr. Schlondorff
Christophe Vandevelde ... Ludo
Olga Legrand ... Mme Godon
Augustin Legrand ... José
Jo Prestia ... Pierre Bléreau
Philippe Passon ... Jean-François Godon
Djalalli Amouche ... Abel
Serge Chambon ... L'Organisateur
Melchior Aquino ... Keller
Nouredine Ameur ... Mr. Meyer
22-year-old Sebastian (George Babluani), a decent hardworking Georgian immigrant living in modern day France, works construction jobs to support his poor family, not really the builder type and currently doing a spot of roofing by the Brittany coast for a man called Jean-François Godon (Philippe Passon). But the home owner is a morphine-addict who is under police surveillance, his wife (Olga Legrand) tired of his lifestyle and employment habits. But later that week Godon dies of an overdose, his widow informing Sébastien that she is unable to pay him for the work he has done so far and the house likely to be sold and so the bill someone else’s problem. Whilst on the roof Sébastien overhears the widow talking with one of Godon's friends, describing a mysterious "job" that Godon had lined up before his death.
Sébastien has no money and needs to get paid. An envelope containing the instructions for the job happens to flutter his way. Bored with his lot he decides to follow the instructions and chase the big pay day the job appears to offer. The police that were watching are now watching Sébastien as he heads for the train station and opens a locker with more instructions and uses the train ticket contained in the envelope. Whatever this is its highly illegal and may turn out bad.
The police lose track of Sébastien as he follows the instructions to the letter and is brought to a secluded farm house in a forest, all very sinister and covert. He has no idea what he has got himself into as these guys look pretty badass and a lot of cash on the table ready to bet. This is the criminal underworld and nasty stuff and no wonder the cops want to know where he is going. In Sebastian’s package he has a number 13; the number he will have in the game on the back of his shirt as 12 more desperate looking men line up to begin as the handguns are handed out…
The film is artistically shot in black & white and does look alarmingly like a Stella Artois commercial for a while but that slow start skillfully sets up the men’s characters involved in a film that becomes more intriguing and menacing every scene thereafter and doesn’t let up. The nearer our builder gets to his task the more eye-opening and tense everything is. The scenes where he realizes what is about to happen to him through the events that unfold are one of the most powerful in foreign cinema for a while. You think this is just a movie and this stuff couldn’t happen but when you think about the depravity out there in the Middle East and old Europe you do think again. This film is so not for Women and kids.
George Babluani, who looks a little too much like a young Steve Cogan, is brilliant in the lead as he goes from decent hard working young man providing for his family to an adrenalin soaked wreck. I was little bit disappointed with the ending although I do like how that comes about as we think back through the movie to moments where we are introduced to the characters for the final act. Its one of those movies that just leaves you scratching your head why it has not been made before. The whole free will aspect to it only makes it even more compelling and sadistic.
It made one million Euros from its budget of Eu786, 098 and clearly not a film that even attempted to sell itself on its budget. It’s probably been seen by people that had heard good word of mouth from people who watch this type of below the radar low budget effort, a bit like how the people in the film met in that farmhouse. I enjoyed it though and if it pops up on Film4 then you should record or watch it. With a bit of Saw, a slice of The Deer Hunter and an Asian Extreme feel to it this it’s a film that’s rather interesting for European cinema. There is not that many subtitles so maybe one for foreign film fans looking for an easier viewing experience when tackling subtitles.
Imdb.com – 7.4/10.0 (14,234votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 84% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 61% critic’s approval
Leonard Maltin Film Book –
Globe & Mail –‘A tightly screwed shocker, a suspense tour de force that proceeds through a harrowing chain of events with alarming confidence’.
Detroit Free Press –‘It may be smarter than Saw II or Saw III, but it's just selling a classier brand of sadistic voyeurism’.
Seattle Times –‘Gela Babluani, according to the film's sparse press kit, is only 26 years old but already knows more about suspense than some filmmakers learn in a career’.
Calgary Movies –‘13 Tzameti does suffer from a weak and even lazy conclusion, but that doesn't stop 90 minutes that come before it. This truly is deserving of being unforgettable’.
Eye for Film –‘An impressively noirish moral fable that, for all its bleakness, offers ample rewards to those willing to take a chance on it’.
The Mail –‘At its center is an astonishing set-piece that will rivet almost any moviegoer’.
The New Jersey Times –‘I knew nothing before I saw this film, except I heard it was intense (it is) and a little violent (also true). It's also well made, disturbing, and rather hard to forget’
From the outside you wouldn't guess that the Kino is a cinema. A village hall, perhaps, or school building, even a nonconformist chapel. It has that worthy late-Victorian look: solid red brick, leaded windows, black-and-white paint. Indeed, if you look closely you will spot the carved panel in the brickwork that proclaims it to be a 'lecture hall' and the adjacent blue plaque that explains that it was built for this purpose by some 19th century philanthropist and was later acquired by the village of Hawkhurst. I have been unable to discover when it was finally adapted for its current use.
Entering, you still don't think 'cinema', not even cinema foyer, more café or pub. The ticket counter doubles as the bar and, whilst there are in theory two queues, in practice there is often overlap between the two. It's patient, good-natured overlap, though. Many people will have booked their tickets in advance, and have no need to wait at that particular till. Others arrive early to have a drink, cup of tea or snack before the show, thus staggering arrivals, so there is hardly ever a last-minute rush and definitely no panic. The people of Hawkhurst, a prosperous, mainly rural community on the borders of Kent and Sussex, are not much given to rush and panic in any case.
Some people take their drinks into the auditorium with them, especially if space is short in the café, or if the weather's too cold to go out onto the terrace at the rear. There are cup/glass-holders built into the armrests of the comfortable seats. The Kino may be a tiny independent cinema housed in a former Victorian lecture hall, but the actual auditorium is as up-to-date and well-equipped as any modern multiplex. In a way, the Kino is a curious combination of the archaic and the futuristic, embracing cinema as it must have been in its earliest days - little local 'picture houses' springing up in every town and village wherever space could be found for them - and cinema as it has become - small plushy, high-tech 'screens' suited to compact audiences - but leaving out the era of cavernous hangers catering for mass attendances that flourished and then fell from favour in between.
* Auditorium and seating *
The auditorium at the Kino is tiny, accommodating just ninety-one seats arranged in nine rows. The front five rows are only slightly raked, but in them one is close enough to the screen for this not to be an obstacle to obtaining a clear view. However, many people do find the front rows too close to the screen, and prefer to sit towards the back. The rear four rows are quite steeply raked, so again obtaining a clear view presents no difficulty.
The seats themselves are new and well-upholstered, though finished somewhat garishly in orange, brown and purple, which together with green seem to be the theme colours for the Kino brand. Aircraft-style, the seats look a touch narrow at first glance, but they are well-padded and recline back ever so slightly when one sits in them, making them very relaxing. Despite the tightness of the space overall available, there is quite enough legroom; I am on the tall side and do not have a problem.
Altogether, the ambience is of clean modernity. The background décor is predominantly sombre, with dark walls and carpet, though the wall-lighting is again somewhat garish with orange and red illuminated panels. Fortunately, they are switched off once the performance is under way.
* Viewing experience *
The Kino prides itself on being more modern that most, claiming that it is the UK's first all-digital cinema. What precisely is meant by that, and how big an advantage it may or may not be technically, I've no idea, being thoroughly ignorant about cinematic technology. But I can vouch for the fact that the picture and audio clarity always seem to be first class. If the mere notion of a village cinema has you envisaging a creaky old projector casting flickering images onto a stained screen, envisage again. For image and sound, the Kino is as good a place to watch a film as anywhere.
* What's on *
The Kino predominantly shows new releases, four or five in any given week. This week, for example, I see that it is showing Archipelago, Rango, Chalet Girl, Submarine and The Company Men. Since only one film can be shown at a time, the viewing times are rotated day by day, so that different films fill different timeslots, enabling people who cannot attend during particular hours to pick a day that will suit them. There are five timeslots daily, from morning through to late evening. Movies most suited to children, of course, tend not to be shown during the last timeslot.
Unlike many small independent cinemas, the Kino does not show many 'classic' revivals nor obscure 'art house' offerings. Nor, so far as I am aware, any Bollywood. Presumably, the owners have found that there is little demand for such genres locally. They do, however, cater for one minority taste, regularly screening specialist Opera and Ballet features. Personally, I've never attended any of these, but if you're an opera or ballet fan doubtless it's a plus.
Each individual programme is kept minimal: just one trailer and a commercial break that is limited to a quick sequence of about a dozen still advertisements for local businesses. In merciful contrast to what one endures at some cinemas, here the hors d'oeuvre is quickly over and the main feature up on screen.
* Café and terrace *
The café/bar is definitely one of the Kino's most attractive features. It's not a lavish affair, its furnishings being essentially functional, although there is a leather sofa and one or two armchairs too. It is, however, quite comfortable enough for pre- or post-performance refreshment, and whilst it can become crowded it is seldom crammed, especially in warm weather when the customers can also spill out onto the terrace behind the cinema.
The fare is simple and limited in range, but of good quality and reasonably priced. For snacks, there are Panini (a choice of five or six fillings) at £3.95, or homemade soup-of-the-day at £4.40 with a big hunk of granary bread and butter. A variety of tea and coffee options is available, and home-made cake or cookies to go with them. Confectionary and savoury nibbles are also on sale, as is some rather delicious locally-sourced ice cream. If you're accustomed to munch away while watching, it's as easily done here as at any cinema, and on the whole much more tastily. Or you can enjoy a drink as you watch; the bar is licensed and serves a range of beers and wines by the glass at regular pub prices.
Or you can enjoy a drink without any intention of watching. The café seems to attract quite a few customers who are there for refreshment, to read the papers (several copies are left lying around) or a chat with friends rather than because they are going to the cinema. Even though this adds to the crowd it is no doubt to be welcomed as helping to pay for the continued existence of the place.
* Tickets - booking and prices *
The standard ticket price for all seats is £9.50 adult, or £7.50 for concessions. There is also a "Kids' Club" rate for the first showings on Saturdays and Sundays, where each child pays just £5.50 and can take an accompanying adult in free. Discounts are in any case also often available for early showings. Given the different discount structures, it's hard to make a direct comparison with competitors, but I observe that the standard Peak Time (after 5.00) rates at my local Odeon are £9.20 adult, £7.00 for OAPs and thus marginally cheaper, but only marginally.
Apart from simply rolling up at the cinema and taking your chance, you can reserve seats at the Kino online or by phone for collection on arrival. If you are a member of the Kino Club, you can also print your tickets out online. Membership costs £35 (single) or £45 (double) per year, and entitles you to 2 (single members) or 4 (double members) tickets per year, plus £1 a ticket discount thereafter for each member and any accompanying guests. Plus an emailed newsletter and invitations to occasional special members' events. Well worth it for any couple that plans to go regularly.
* Locality *
Hawkhurst is an attractive though rather sprawling village that has the advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you choose to regard it, of being quite remote by the over-crowded standards of south-eastern England. This is certainly an advantage for the Kino in that there are no other cinemas very close with which it has to compete, a disadvantage to it in drawing customers from a catchment area of relatively low population density. A disadvantage to prospective customers too, if they have to travel a long way to reach it. The nearest town of substance is Tunbridge Wells, about a dozen miles away. Maidstone and Hastings are each about seventeen miles, to the north and south respectively; Hawkhurst is on the A229 between the two. There are buses from all three, although none has a very frequent service, but no railway connection. Nearby attractions include Bodiam Castle and famous gardens at Sissinghurst, Scotney Castle and Great Dixter. My wife and I can combine a visit to one of the latter with a viewing at the Kino; this helps us justify the journey, to ourselves at least.
Parking at Hawkhurst is easy and mostly free. Watch out, though, if you park in the adjacent Jempsons' carpark during the day; the two hour limit on free parking is strictly enforced by CCTV cameras. There is plenty of truly free parking not much further away (Fowlers' carpark or any nearby side-street).
* The future of cinema *
The imminent death of the cinema has been frequently predicted for almost as long as I can remember, and always turns out to have been exaggerated, at least in its imminence. There has indeed been a long-term decline in attendances since the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, in the face of competition from ubiquitous television, videos, DVDs/Blu-Ray, and most recently direct downloads. But the decline has been gradual, and interspersed with periods of revival as the cinema has adapted and learned new tricks. Most commenters now assume the future, if cinemas have one, lies with the big chains of multiplexes, mainly located in out-of-town shopping centres, chains which can spread their overheads over many screens and flex their bargaining muscle with distributors. In the face of this predicted trend, little local cinemas like the Kino would seem a doomed anomaly, yet the Kino for one shows every sign of flourishing. At any rate, it always appears to be well-patronised, though it is hard to know how that translates in business terms. After all, even if it were full for every showing, which it isn't, it still only has ninety-one seats from which to derive revenue, and it presumably has little bargaining muscle with distributors. Financially, it might still be a marginal enterprise for all its popularity.
Whatever the wider future of cinema may prove to be, I personally shall continue to make a point of going to the Kino, despite the fact that it is about five times further from my home than the nearest Odeon multiplex in Maidstone. This is not just because it is a good cinema in itself, though it is, but also because I like to encourage unusual, independent institutions of its kind - for much the same reason, in fact, that I would always prefer to buy my fruit and veg at a farm shop than at a supermarket, and that I would prefer to stay at a privately-owned hotel or B&B, however eccentric, than at an identikit Holiday Inn or Travelodge. If we don't support such enterprises by making use of them they will disappear and we will be left with no alternative to - and therefore be at the mercy of - the bland mediocrity of the mass-market brands.
So do I recommend that you should all travel the length and breadth of Britain to see a film at the Kino? No, not really. If you happen to live locally - say, within twenty miles or so - and for some reason it hasn't registered on your radar, I would definitely recommend a visit for the experience. Or maybe if you happened in any case to be visiting the area, perhaps to see one of the nearby attractions mentioned above. But not otherwise. It's kind of special, but not that special. In a way, I wish it were less special; I wish that every town, village or suburb had its own local equivalent. Indeed, if you are lucky enough to have an equivalent cinema near where you live, I would urge you to support it with your custom.
© Also published with photographs under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2011