Themes of hope, angst, masterfully molded in clay

Using the medium of Wallace and Gromit and Gumby, Israeli filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal turns her clay figures into real people in $9.99, a wise, wistful study of hope and dread.

Set in and around an apartment building in an unnamed town, $9.99 was adapted from the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret. His take on life is wry, and pretty dark: In the opening scene of this strikingly crafted film, a homeless man puts a gun to his head when a passerby balks at giving him a dollar. When was the last time you saw a stop-motion animated film in which blood was being wiped from a bathroom sink?

Like the extraordinary animated documentary Waltz With Bashir and the Oscar-nominated Persepolis, Rosenthal's $9.99 uses a format familiar to kids to explore weighty themes.

And like Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland, and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel, $9.99 tracks the lives of a disparate group of people. In Rosenthal's movie, a glum businessman crosses paths with the aforementioned homeless guy. There's a boy obsessed with soccer who lives with his dad. There's a lonely widower. A young man discovers a book called The Meaning of Life, while his older brother meets a sexy model who's moved into the building. No one's quite found what he's looking for. Some have forgotten they were even looking.

An Israeli/Australian coproduction, $9.99 is voiced by a cast of top-notch Down Under actors: Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Joel Edgerton, Barry Otto, Claudia Karvan, and Ben Mendelsohn among them. The words come out with a distinct Aussie twang, but their meaning is universal.


 

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/


$9.99

Directed by Tatia Rosenthal. With Brian Meagan, Jamie Katsamatsas, Joel Edgerton, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Ben Mendelson, Lanna Walsman, Barry Otto, Claudia Karvan, Samuel Johnson. Distributed by Regent Releasing.

Running time: 1 hours, 18 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for language and brief sexuality and nudity).