A soaringly imaginative and defiantly different fantasy that looks at love, loss and tears in post-WW1 Serbia. Especially the tears.
At once epic in journey (albeit amusingly in microcosm) and personal in character Tears For Sale is a welcome film for anyone concerned that the fantasy genre is limited to vacuous Hollywood CGI extravaganzas and that ‘worthy’ films need to be gritty, realistic and unremittingly bleak. Here then is something that cocks a snoot at both views and, while it begs any reviewer to evoke comparisons with the filmmaking of Terry Gilliam, Jeunet and Caro or Emir Kusturica, is nevertheless its own film. Joyous and darkly humorous it manages to be a life-affirming look at death saturated in colour and dynamism.
Life has not been good to Pokrp, a village that, like most of Serbia, has suffered the ravages of war and inter-community fighting. In fact Pokrp has been particularly hard hit. There is but one surviving male, Grandfather Bisa – "the most virile of bedridden men" – a desperate situation for an entirely female village worried about ageing, love and procreation. Until recently the chaste sisters Ognjenka and Boginja had at least been able to ply their trade to lucrative success – for they are professional weepers, hired to shed copious streams of salty tears at funerals. But with no men left to mourn, their career opportunities look bleak, a matter not aided by the fact that a desperate sister’s attempt at ardour leads to the death of Grandfather Bisa. This tragic event seals the sisters’ fates. They have to leave their home to find a virile man who will re-populate Pokrp and satiate the libidos of the other frustrated women – "I’m going to Hell – it’s hot there with lots of naked men". To ensure their return the villagers have reincarnated their grandmother, whose soul is at stake should the "old maids" (one of them is nearly 22, after all) fail in their mission. Travelling beyond the boundaries of their village the professional weeping pair begin to encounter a whole new world of adventure, men and passion, but will they want to share this with the other villagers?
A huge hit on release, Tears For Sale has tentatively done the rounds of festivals where its clear charms have won over audiences and occasionally bemused critics who can’t seem to decide if the film is a masterpiece or just a piece of style-over-content eye-candy. It is a surprising and refreshing film that is in equal parts bawdy, innocent, personal and general. Most obviously apparent is the film’s visual style – a heady brew of CGI compositing and deliberately over-the-top camera shots that slam the audience straight into a world that is dreamlike and filled with oddities and idiosyncrasies. It is exactly what CGI is meant for – to realise the impossible in a way that is otherworldly yet familiar, not photorealistic and lifeless. It perfectly matches the other elements of the film – the hyperbole of the script and acting, the rousing folk score and deliberately non-realistic dialogue. This is a film, not a reflection of real life but rather a representation of a life shrouded in mystery, magic and folklore. It depicts a world where "even ghosts won’t go near you" when you are too old and the dead can walk the land – albeit in a grumpy fashion. The CG is perfectly suited to the free wheeling nature of the film and has the same effect as the similarly deliberately artificially enhanced Moulin Rouge or Amelie.
Refreshing, fun, interesting and very different Tears For Sale is just the sort of invigorating filmmaking that is needed in an era of worthy piety or empty fiction. There’s not much real surrealism around in cinema – enjoy this while you can.