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.EndText

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/