Did you know that heaven is just like the Sunshine Coast? This is accoridng to the Angel (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) as he talks with an old man, Albert (Barry Otto).
Tatia Rosenthal offers a whimsical insight into the lives of residents of an apartment block (with architecture typical of Tel Aviv according to Rosenthal) that could in reality be anywhere. She reveals their hopes and disappointments as they each struggle to come to terms with what gives their lives meaning and purpose. The title of the film is the cost of a self-help book, “The Meaning of Life,” for only $9.99 which ironically nobody has time to listen to (there are six meanings in case you were wondering).
The source material is Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s short stories who, with Rosenthal, re-worked his stories so that the narrative threads all complement each other and bring out the themes of longing and yearning. We follow a single father and his two grown sons, one looking for work, the other looking for love; another single father with one young son who loves soccer; a widowed and lonely pensioner; a homeless man desperate for a cup of coffee; and a young couple who can’t commit.
The humour and magical realism of the characters take you beyond the clay models and step-by-step animation where every movement has been painstakingly crafted in front of the camera. The texture and complexion of the models give them character and definition even down to the moisture in their eyes (done with KY Jelly in case, again, you were wondering).
According to Rosenthal very little of the animation was left for post production so virtually everything you see was actually modelled and moved, frame by frame. The water scenes, the lake and the shower, was done via CGI and this takes on a life-like sheen which works well.
But, as always, it is stories that move us and characters we care about. The voices are a veritable who’s who of Australian film : Rush, Otto, Anthony La Paglia, Samuel Johnson, Ben Mendelsohn, Tom Budge and Claudia Karvan with the animation performed in a wharehouse in North Sydney.
Rosenthal has toured this film around all the world’s film festivals and she said that the biggest audience laughs came from this Australian audience (I bet she says that to everyone). But if that’s true, it should not come as a surprise. There is an undeniable Australian wit and charm which the audience did indeed respond very warmly to.
The slightly absurdist and imaginative ‘extra’ characters came in the form of minitature stoner buddies and boneless ex-lovers, used as couches.
The film is cleverly done and economically told, with a running time of just 78 minutes. Note that despite the fact it is an animation, it is not for children, the nude sex scene puts paid to that.