"13 (Tzameti)": A lucky break for suspense junkies

Be warned: The best way to experience the fine French thriller "13 (Tzameti)" is to know nothing about it beforehand. It's slipping into Seattle quietly for a week's run, with little fanfare and no advance screenings. A New York-based publicist sent me a copy of the film, expressing hope that I might review it and might like it. Not knowing what to expect, I popped it into my DVD player at home, sat back — and was quietly dazzled.

Filmed, audaciously, in the crispest black-and-white since "Good Night, and Good Luck" and accompanied by Arnaud Taillefer's jazzy, expectant score, Gela Babluani's debut film holds its audience in an imperceptibly tightening grip. Young Sebastien (Georges Babluani, the director's brother), while repairing a neighbor's roof, hears discussion of an expected package that will bring riches to that household. Wanting to help his own impoverished family, Sebastien intercepts the package, which contains a train ticket and a receipt for a hotel room — instructions, it seems, for a strangely sinister scavenger hunt. Off he goes, to find ... no, you'll just have to experience it yourself.

Movie review3.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"13 (Tzameti)," with Georges Babluani, Aurélien Recoing, Pascal Bongard, Fred Ulysse. Written and directed by Gela Babluani. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains violence). In French with English subtitles. Varsity, through Thursday.

Know, though, that Sebastien's journey is as dark as his wary eyes, and that there are scenes involving men, guns and one bare light bulb that just may have you realizing that you've stopped breathing. 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. "13" won best first feature at the Venice Film Festival last year, and the grand jury prize for world cinema at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Babluani's next film, which he has just finished shooting, is titled "L'Ame perdue du Sommet (The Lost Soul)." Remember that title; remember his name.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com