Review by Tim Rauch.
Last week Tatia Rosenthal’s “$9.99” played as a part of the “New Directors/New Films” series at MOMA. The Sunday night screening I made it to was well attended, with a strong showing of support from New York animators including, among others, Fran Krause, Chris Conforti, Elliot Cowan, Andy Kennedy, Emmet Goodman, Chris Timmons and John Lustig. The film was a delight: good direction, solid voice acting, a strong musical score and a fantastic script. It sounds almost cliche to say it, but seeing an animated feature with a non-linear script and complex emotional content is cause to celebrate. The story of this film’s creation includes years of dedication on the part of the director and writer (Rosenthal and novelist Etgar Keret) when there was little or no money for development. Split between sources in Australia and Israel, the budget was razor thin for a stop-motion film of this scale and required a tightly scheduled production in Melbourne. Still, if the animation and effects were at times a bit rough around the edges, it was more than compensated for by the overall strength of Rosenthal’s filmmaking. The intersecting story lines created a poetic, entertaining mix with the big payoff coming at the end as the various strands resolved themselves. A few of the images in the films final minutes that stood out to me: two men leaping like dolphins through a public pond, a liberated piggy bank resting on a patch of grass, and a man literally sacrificing his body in a bizarre and extreme display of affection. The film showed a depth of understanding for human emotion and dramatic subtlety that is truly rare in any medium.
Besides being a joy to watch as entertainment, the extraordinary effort and sacrifice represented by this film is inspirational to me. The world of animation is littered with artists who would love to work on a film with this kind of emotional and intellectual complexity, many of whom are happy enough to complain about “the work that’s out there” but fewer of whom are willing to take on the responsibility to get out there and make it happen. Animation is a rough business that requires real discipline and fortitude for one to actually pull of a competent 70+ minutes of screen time. The bar has been so hard to cross that up to now individuals who can combine unique and off-beat visions of what can be accomplished with the ability to actually produce a film have been hard to come by. Perhaps that bar is beginning to become easier to clear.
The world of animation is a much richer and more interesting place when films like this are being made.