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a strange, episodic movie that contains some very weird moments
$9.99 came and went from theaters, but it sticks out very nicely on On Demand, which is where I ultimately saw the little 70-minute claymation movie (I could say stop-motion animated, which it is, but it is very much in the clay tradition of practically being able to see the fingerprints on the characters' bodies and faces). It's about... I suppose how to live a life, I suppose, and that's emphasized by the book that keeps popping up periodically in the film- which you can buy for $9.99 (in the movie, not in real life, I think anyway)- that tells what the Meaning of Life is... that is, it gives a lot of other offers for books on how to deal with this or that in life. It almost looks like a coupon book, which is a shame since the character who is most in love with it, a nice kid, seems very much engrossed by it.
But the title of Tatia Rosenthal's film is more like rounding off reality, perhaps. It's not a full $10, but the characters do try to make that price in their lives. To put it another way, no one character in this film is quite happy, but they keep trying, and maybe life will have some meaning when they can attain some happiness - or not, as case might be. Rosenthal's film, based on short stories Etgar Keret, focus on a group of people who have some, um, quirks to them, or are just painfully normal. The film begins with a middle-aged businessman turning down a homeless man a dollar for a coffee, and the homeless guy pulls out a gun and shoots himself. He later returns as an Angel and hangs out with an old guy on his porch, smoking cigarettes and wondering what Heaven is like. The businessman's sons: one is the Meaning of Life book-reader, and the other is a repo man who falls hard for a sexy (as sexy as claymation can be) model, and proceeds to shave his whole body with hair - and then takes a cue from the organ-less men who removed their body parts until they were heads and blobs. All for love, I guess.
Other stories are a little more ordinary, more or less. More: a little boy is told by his father to put away fifty cents in his piggy bank so he can save up to buy a toy, but he finds that he grows attached to the piggy bank, who he names, and finds the piggy's smile very comforting ("I put money in, he smiles, I don't put money in... he smiles!"). Less: a guy whose girl really wants to settle down and marry and have kids and all of that, but finds that he would rather spend time in his room, listening to records with his three little "friends", little men ala Gulliver's Travels, and getting wasted on beer and pot. So the stories are mostly by themselves, but intertwine by certain events (such as the Angel doing a test "fly" off of the patio and with everyone else looking out the window), or by thematic context.
The stories have a lot of humor to them, with one-liners that zing ("I found that there's not one meaning to life, there's six!"), and the look of the film feels similar but is original in its own right of character design and approach (and, for once, we get a rated-R claymation movie, including full frontal nudity!), but it also goes for deep moments and resonance, and Rosenthal strikes some good ground here. She doesn't try and over-do the messages, but lets them speak for themselves through the stories. It's genuinely odd, but it also gives heart-felt scenes and passages, such as the little boy with the piggy bank (the end of his story with the bank is quite touching), and it values the power of human responsibility with fantasy in equal measure. If it were a little longer it might really be something great, but as it stands it's a curious little find.
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