From the Vault – $9.99 (2008)

Director: Tatia Rosenthal | 1h 18mins | Animation, Drama

A number of tenants, living in a rundown Australian apartment complex, all struggle to find their own answer to the meaning of life.

Tatia Rosenthal’s adult stop-motion animation is a strange exercise in the surreal and existential. Based on the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, it follows a number of Australian citizens living in the same apartment block all dealing with their own versions of life’s most burning questions. The title refers to a book bought by one of the film’s many intertwining characters that, while unemployed and looking for direction, get’s the promise of life’s meaning for the price of only $9.99 – if only it were that simple. 

The setting is a dull city in which heat and despair seem to have sucked any sense of happiness or togetherness. It’s a setting that aptly accompanies every story the film offers. A business man suffers with depression after his wife leaves him – and is faced with a homeless man’s suicide in a cracking open scene – while his youngest son searches for his purpose. His eldest son falls for a model with a particular expectation for her partners. A young man refuses to grow up and falls into a bender with tiny companions and a child aches for a new toy only to become enamoured with his piggy bank containing the money for said toy. All the stories are wonderfully dreary and surreal in equal measure which Rosenthal tackles by making each character with imperfect animation and giving them all humanity. 

A film that does tackle such heavy subjects like the human condition, and where we find ourselves at different stages in our life, will always feel like an acquired taste. In fact a lot of $9.99 suffers because of its inability to make anything feel concrete. It’s surrealism is both wild and mesmerising but sometimes makes the humanity of the film suffer. When you think about the more mature animations like Kaufman’s Anomolisa and another Australian production Mary & Max, their journey, while dreary, has a set destination that feels completely rooted in the human experience. One can’t hold Rosenthal accountable however, as her source material demands elements of both fantasy and realism. 

Despite an absence of humanity at times, $9.99 deserves applause for it’s human link up of each story. Each one is unique in it’s characters but the end goal is always the same. Whether it be purpose, friendship, relationships or even just finding someone to talk to – all stories are about finding your own individual happiness. This is probably the most intelligent part of the film, satirically taking jabs at our needs for answers while wholesomely showing us what is really important. 

For a film that is lathered in a unique coat of surrealism, satire and humanity – it’s surprising that more people haven’t sought Rosenthal’s gloomy animation out. While it doesn’t always hit it’s mark comically or philosophically there’s a real intelligence to be had in how the film connects the characters through the simplest of goals. Add to that a grubby and humid style of visual to match that melancholic tone and what you have is an animation that is worth watching even if it’s not for you. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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