In a town on the Normandy coast, a young man has been hired to replace some wooden attic beams in a house not far from the small apartment in which his immigrant Georgian family lives. He inadvertently rips a hole in a ceiling of the room below, whereupon he learns of a package that promises considerable riches. When the house's drug-addict owner overdoses fatally, the young man grabs it.
In "13 Tzameti," one surprise triggers another in ever-spiraling fashion. Yet it is already clear in its deceptively low-key opening sequences why this extraordinary film, written and directed by young Georgia-born Gela Babluani, took the best first feature prize at Venice in 2005 and the grand jury world cinema award at Sundance earlier this year.
While the film's score strikes an ominous foreshadowing note, the tone of "13 Tzameti's" first scenes is droll, verging upon deadpan. That package proves to be a veritable Pandora's box, with the young man, Sebastien (Georges Babluani, the director's brother), discovering detailed instructions that will prompt him to assume the dead man's identity and take off for a hotel, off-season and deep in the countryside, where a clandestine high-stakes gambling tournament has attracted around 40 men, virtually all middle-aged and older. What the game entails and its rules won't be revealed here, but "13 Tzameti" -- "tzameti" is the number 13 in Georgian -- is not for the faint of heart.