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Israel/Australia 2009
Directed by
Tatia Rosenthal
78 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: The meaning of life can apparently be found for $9.99 in a little book which unemployed man, Dave Peck, buys. Meanwhile the other inhabitants of his apartment building are groping for the answer in their own way. Dave’s brother Lenny is falling in love with a supermodel who likes hairless men; Ron breaks up with his schoolteacher fiancé, drinks and smokes dope to ease the pain; youngster Zack gets emotionally attached to his piggy bank. Lenny and Dave’s Dad, Jim, seems totally bewildered by life, especially when a homeless man bales him up asking for money then shoots himself. Meanwhile, retiree Albert is entertaining a disgruntled guardian angel and magician Marcus Pocus is being evicted by Lenny.

The unusual collaboration between Australia and Israel for this film is explained by the fact that it is based upon a number of short stories by Israeli writer, Etgar Keret. Australian producer Emile Sherman tracked him down while holidaying in Tel Aviv and heard that a script was underway with New York director, Tatia Rosenthal. In truth however its characters’ malcontentedness and soul-searching is universal.$9.99 could be set almost anywhere in the world,

The film is entirely animated with stop-motion puppets, very odd ones with shiny skin and big lips, making emotion a tricky thing to glean from their faces. They are very painterly-looking puppets, but with fastidious attention paid to both their individual detail and the minutiae of every aspect of the settings.

It is to the credit of the immensely talented cast of well-loved Australian actors that so much emotion is imbued into this oddball collection of life’s lost souls. Firstly the homeless man and the angel are both voiced by Geoffrey Rush. Whether they are one and the same character (before and after death) never quite dawned on me, and it is this rather convoluted inter-relating of characters that made things a bit tricky to follow. Anthony La Paglia is the father, Jim, a rotund, gloomy bloke, with Ben Mendelssohn voicing Lenny and Samuel Johnson voicing Dave. These two sons of Jim are as far apart in nature as one could imagine. Joel Edgerton is Ron, the slacker who, when he drinks and smokes dope, has a collection of leprechaun-sized slackers join him in his room. His ex-fiancé Michelle is voiced by Claudia Karvan whilst Barry Otto is Albert, a kindly old man who gets saddled with the grumpy angel and is so desperate for conversation that he tries to engage every phone survey caller who rings him.

There is much truth in the dialogue, and so much isolation, angst and loneliness in the characters. Dave is never listened to by anyone, even the phone surveyor hangs up on Albert, Lenny will go to ridiculous extremes physically to please his demanding fetishist girlfriend Tanita (Leeanne Walsman). Only Dave and youngster Zack (Jamie Katsamatsis) seem to have a grasp on any joy in life and the scenes involving the piggy bank, as well as the fabulous final scene, are as touching as they are strange. Other actors voicing the characters are David Field, Tom Budge and Roy Billing, testament to the strength of the cast, but also the size of it, something which makes for confusion. It’s hard to do a multi-strand narrative in the limited running time allotted here.

With elements of magical realism and a weird juxtaposition of ennui and cynicism with child-like optimism, $9.99  is a refreshingly different film that really leaves us wondering what IS the meaning of life.





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