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“13 Tzameti,” “The Dr. Mabuse Collection”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “13 Tzameti,” Palm Picture, 2006]

Some films are bulletproof from spoiler overkill, while others, whose structures are delicate and whose impact depends on left curves, are vulnerable as hell. Géla Babluani’s superb, disconcerting, seismic “13 Tzameti” is one for the latter camp — so, if you hadn’t read about it during its brief release last year, don’t ruin it now. The less you know, the better, although saying that frames up its own kind of hype-exhaustion, and Babluani’s movie is a nightmare in a minor key, a small-framed riff on socioeconomic injustice that will, if you let it, get under your nape skin and scratch you raw.

“Tzameti” is 13 in Georgian (in the UK, the title reads more coherently as “13 (Tzameti)”); Babluani is the son of famed Georgian director Temur Babluani and brother of George Babluani, who stars as the open-faced hero Sébastien, a young Tbilisi immigrant doing uninsured construction work in France. In the house he’s roofing, mysterious messages come for the owner, a desiccated old junkie with an angry wife. When the dopey coot finally dies, and payment for labor performed is not forthcoming, Sébastien whimsically grabs a letter that had been portentously delivered — in it, he finds a hotel reservation, a train ticket and instructions. He takes off, wordlessly hoping to take advantage of whatever earning opportunities might present themselves, and we discover the police are trailing him.

Where Sébastien actually lands, and what secretly happens there, constitutes the film’s left hook sucker punch that keeps hitting you to the last minute. It’s simple, violent and horrifyingly cold-blooded, eloquent as a metaphor for class exploitation and capitalist amorality — humans as disposable trash, as pawns, as meat. Low-budget and shot in shadowy black and white, “13 Tzameti” has the muscular, ethical inevitability of an existential fable.

It’s easy to love movies that posit dreadful secret machinations operating under the surface of ordinary life — isn’t that how things are actually run? One of the great modern myths of covert power is Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind that began as the villain in a few books by Luxembourgian novelist Norbert Jacques, first adapted by Fritz Lang in epic serial form in 1922 as “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler.” A mere gambler/mobster he did not remain; in Lang’s 1933 masterpiece “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” the evil genius became a mind-controlling force not necessarily dependent on corporeal form. This is how he was reconstituted for the Cold War in the 60s, by Lang and far less talented filmmakers, in a series of West German films that borrowed ideas from German Expressionism, James Bond, John le Carré and Marvel comics. The new triple-feature DVD set The Dr. Mabuse Collection houses three cheapjack samples of blissful mid-century pulp: “The Return of Dr. Mabuse” (1961), “The Invisible Dr. Mabuse” (1962), both directed by one Harald Reinl, a hack-journeyman who made dozens of German espionage thrillers and a few German westerns, and “The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse” (1964), directed by Argentine B-man Hugo Fregonese.

The first two films stalk the wet, Langian streets of Berlin with stolid U.S. agent Lex Barker; the third opts for a more Ian Flemingish milieu and flits over to sunny Malta. Everywhere, it seems, bodies turn up, hospitals and institutions are hiding secret conspiracies, oblivious victims are radio-controlled by a constantly reincarnating Mabuse to kill or commit suicide, and plans are hatched to destroy or take over the globe one asylum ward and curvaceous double-agent at a time. Here, you do not seek out deft screenwriting and committed acting (the wall-to-wall English dubbing, the only alternative on these public-domain prints, obviates the requirement for either in any case). Rather, you get a retro-tech sense of ominous, Euro-urban dread not unlike the ghostly Parisian emptiness summoned in the serials of silent pioneer Louis Feuillade. When will Mabuse’s time come around again?

“13 Tzameti” (Palm) will be available on DVD on February 13. “The Dr. Mabuse Collection” (Image) is available now.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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