(Géla Babluani, NR, 86 min, France)
13 Tzameti, the feature-length debut from Géla Babluani, is a taut, engaging thriller that begins simply enough before transforming itself into an unexpected treatise on morality and luck. George Babluani, the brother of the director, stars as Sébastien, a construction worker who overhears his employer's plot to earn a great deal of money for only one day's work. He steals, then follows the elaborate instructions, not realizing the police are following him closely. The work in question: a suicidal, high-stakes game of Russian Roulette that he cannot escape.
The easy comparison here is Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's Intacto (2001), but Babluani films in a stark, gritty style that invokes the French New Wave and the best in 16mm short films. The tension is undeniable and the result is a film that after a slow start gets very cool during the second act and, then, oddly enough, somewhat profound. It's not a great film, but for a low-budget first film, it's as good as you can hope for.
(Ilya Khrjanovsky, NR, 126 min, Russia)
There's nothing quite like seeing a film you know nothing about in a festival setting. Zero expectations, coupled with the tendency for festivals to have a less-than-rigorous selection process (since the goal isn't box office, per se, there's sometimes more focus on an ill-defined sense of "art". This is not always a good thing.) Collections of shorts are great in this regard because the films are often either brilliant or terrible (and sometimes both at the once), yet none of them are quite long enough to make you regret coming. There's almost always something worthwhile. Features, however, can be scary, especially if you're like me and hate to walk out, no matter what.
Which brings us to Ilya Khrjanovsky's 4, in which three people meet in a bar, lie about who they are, and leave. It's a compelling, nuanced scene composed of long, steady shots. Polished isn't the right word, but it isn't far off. Then, the film devolves into some sort of statement about the conditions of modern day Russia, full of rotting meat, wild dogs, and long, long, long scenes where old women wail and eat and get drunk. Tedious is exactly the right word. It's pretty clear the contrast between the lies we tell and reality, which is generally the film's main point, but that's a point made clear before the end of the first hour. Apparently the Russian censors wanted to cut an hour from the film, and I can't say I blame them. There's a line where a film ceases to be a cryptic, beautiful mess and becomes nothing short of a clusterfuck. That's the line 4 crosses. It's the type of art film that turns people off art films.
This would be enough if the projectionist didn't improperly frame the vast majority of the film, including two reels framed low enough to make the subtitles nearly impossible to read. I find this happening more and more. Projecting a film properly isn't complicated and screenings like this make me long for the day I can download the film and just watch it at home, where I can at least be confident I'm actually seeing the film I'm supposed to be watching.