When Tears For Sale commences, you are instantly reminded of Amelie. The narrator, albeit this time speaking Serbian) unfolding the world around you; as if producing an old map of which without it you would not understand the story. And this map is old, its folds are almost torn and framing that land that you can see are annotations and notes explaining what everything is. I was excited.
The film tells the story of two sisters, brought up in a village in an alternate Serbia just after the First World War. The nation is plighted by a lack of men; they were all killed in the fighting across Europe. The country is populated almost exclusively by women, and men hold such a value that they are protected and guarded by the settlements that have one.
The sisters’ village has one man left, an elderly, bedridden man. The two virgin sisters, having never even kissed a man, look to be “caressed” by the last man they know of, lest they grow old as frigid spinsters. However, as we all know, elderly men are not to be excited; the man dies.
To avoid punishment, they leave the village and seek out a replacement. And this is where the story begins.
However, it doesn’t really.
The key plot line of the film revolves around that quest, and the subsequent adventure and experiences that follow. But it takes forever to shift into gear, and the evolving of the sisters’ back story and history is, essentially, irrelevant. Once the tale does take a turn and start its journey, it judders the whole way, stopping and starting, accelerating and then skidding to a near halt. The film never feels like it has a route planned out of the original map we saw at the opening.
Additionally, we never care about anyone in it. The film is entirely focuses upon desires of the flesh, not the heart. The girls are scared of never being touched by a man, rather than of never being loved, and the drive for every character is to sleep with the few men left, rather than experience any emotional satisfaction. The movie is aware of this, it makes a point of it. But as the audience, we cannot connect to it, it has no purchase on ourselves.
On the other hand, to give the filmmaker credit, the quality of the film is spectacular, considering the nature of Serbian cinema and the budget of only $4 million. The special effects trounce anything the BBC can throw out these days, and for that I give it a nod. But, as we all know from The Phantom Menace, special effects don’t make a movie.
In all, Uros Stojanovic, the director, has committed science fiction and fantasy suicide. He has spent so much time on the aesthetic, the look and feel, he forgot to make a film to put into it. It is a common mistake in this genre; it is as if he bought an old battered car, and remade the body, painted it to a tee and fitted out the interior with a fantastic leather set. But he never cleaned the engine, and forgot that he did not know how to drive it.
In the end, Tears For Sale is left with a wisp of the scent of Amelie in it and enough spectacle to distract those paying more attention to their popcorn than the film, but no substance or centre. It is a hollow film, tragically, that has pulled pieces from cinema all around it, but grabbed pieces of the puzzle that did not fit, and did not fill out the core of the picture.
Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC. Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.