TEARS FOR SALE review

jackie-chan
Contributor; Derby, England
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TEARS FOR SALE review
(Before it gets swamped under the upcoming flood of TIFF coverage, here's my take on this cracking little film, to coincide with the forthcoming UK DVD release courtesy of Icon Home Entertainment.)

Uros Stojanovic's Tears for Sale is a lush, exuberant, fantastical fable of a movie, the kind of film where it's plainly obvious you don't ask why something is possible, or what the logic is behind the plot twists - you simply sit back and let the ambience carry you away. It's a history lesson, of sorts, in that it gets the viewer to ask precisely what real world events could have prompted its creation. It's a love story, a bold, shamelessly theatrical, tragic romance and it's a hugely entertaining matinee adventure.


It's the 1920s, the aftermath of the first world war has descended on rural Serbia, and the tiny village of Pokrp is in trouble. All the men have long since marched off to die on the battlefield, save one decrepit, bed-ridden senior citizen. When two virginal sisters (Katarina Radivojevic and Sonja Kolacaric) desperate to find out what it's like to experience a man's affections accidentally kill off the oldster, the other women condemn them to death.


Desperate for a reprieve, the sisters offer to venture into the outside world and find a replacement male, but end up with two candidates, both travelling conmen - a strongman (Nenad Jezdic) and a smooth-talking lothario (Stefan Kapicic). One of the sisters will have to give up her beau, but which?


A smash hit in its domestic Serbian market, the film can easily be read as one long freewheeling allegory for the state of the country's psyche and its formative influences. But where other directors might have gone for arthouse miserablism in an attempt to lend the subject matter the appropriate gravitas, Stojanovic elects for a kind of grandiose magical realism instead.


Right from the opening scene Tears for Sale employs a rich, vibrant, computer-enhanced aesthetic palette that draws on faded medieval illustrations, Gilliamesque cartoon exaggeration, Jeunet & Caro's sense of whimsy, a seedy music hall grandeur and a kind of ramshackle visual energy that ties all these and more together.


The village is fading away not merely due to the lack of men, but because the last soldier left their vineyard strewn with mines and forgot to tell anyone where they were. The neighbourhood witch is a cackling sorceress complete with skull headdress who binds the spirit of the sisters' grandmother into ensuring a dreadful punishment should they fail to fulfil their bargain.


The strongman, shot from his cannon, literally soars through the clouds; the dead return to haunt the living; the set dressing is a riot of jumbled curiosities with the air of a Jim Henson fantasy. It's a captivating mash-up of genre influences in which the starting points are obvious enough but where the background to the storytelling gifts the production an identity very much its own.


It bears noting the current cut of Tears for Sale is ruthlessly short, less than eighty minutes minus the credits (though even they're gorgeous enough to be worth watching). The way the plot skips through key scenes can occasionally seem a little too disconnecting even for those prepared to buy into Stojanovic's artistic approach.


But while the story may not gel into an immediately coherent whole - perhaps even less so if you're not from or personally invested in the history of the region - the themes and subtexts are still conveyed clearly and inventively enough the film is clearly much more than a parade of striking imagery.


All four principals turn in some brilliantly nuanced performances. Tears for Sale is earthy, extrovert and some of the symbolism is arguably a little too on the nose, but even in the most flamboyant set pieces there's a fantastic sense of layers of painful hidden meaning trapped beneath the surface of whatever's going on. Seeing the sisters fighting the other women over their men, the village dancing with its ghosts or the narrative callback in the coda can be explosively, even hilariously melodramatic, yes, but also quietly heartbreaking.


Tears for Sale does seem occasionally rough around the edges - the effects are less than seamless, with many coming off as absolutely stunning, yet a few closer to low-budget television. It feels a little too enigmatic in places, without the visceral impact of other films trying the same fairytale approach, like Lee Myung-Se's wildly underrated Duelist.


But the film remains a triumph, a witty, intelligent, laudably adult fantasy in a world that's beautifully fleshed out, where sex and death are thrown in for much more than gratuitous effect. It's far from perfect, but it's compelling, fulfilling stuff and a welcome contribution from a film industry that's too often overlooked. This is a nation's pain reinvented as raw, heartfelt, and irreverent entertainment and it comes strongly recommended to anyone who's the least bit interested.


(Thanks go to Icon Home Entertainment for facilitating this review.)


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You can pre-order Icon Home Entertainment's UK Region 2 DVD of Tears for Sale from Amazon UK here.

More about Tears for Sale (Charleston and Vendetta)

Kurt HalfyardSeptember 8, 2010 4:44 PM

Any idea if the distributor (or any other distributor) plans on releasing the Serbian/Director's cut of the film with English Subs?

I loved the short version, but tragically missed the longer version on the big screen at Fantasia earlier in the year.

Either way, this gem of a film is gorgeous, hilarious, dead-pan and just flat out fantastic (literally and figuratively)

TrepverterSeptember 8, 2010 5:04 PM

Amazing, I've been looking for this since it screened at TIFF. Any idea if it has/will have a North American distributor?

Matthew LeeSeptember 8, 2010 5:25 PM

I don't think they have any plans for the longer cut. This was off a screener - Icon's PR offered me a check disc too later on, but I saw TIFF and Fantastic Fest were coming up and thought I'd better get this out while I still could get them a bit more time on the front page. I'm falling behind on reviews! It is still a great film, even this short - more of the pretty would be fun, but it didn't seem to be crying out for it.

Ard VijnSeptember 8, 2010 7:02 PM

One of my absolute favorites this year, but I caught it at the Imagine festival and cannot remember it being so short? The festival guide mentions 87 minutes... but the Director's Cut clocks in at 100, which is closer to what I remember.

Is there any particular scene exclusive to the DC that will tell me which version I've seen?

Matthew LeeSeptember 8, 2010 7:35 PM

To clarify - the Icon press sheet states the film is 86 minutes, but I'm pretty sure I remember the credits alone being more than 6 minutes in total (don't have the DVD to hand right this second). It really doesn't feel that short, though.

Tuan JimSeptember 8, 2010 9:06 PM

Does the UK dvd have any extras though? The Australian R4 looked great too, but was barebones.

Matthew LeeSeptember 8, 2010 10:12 PM

Not that I'm aware of, I'm afraid. The PR hasn't mentioned any.


Icon do still deserve credit for bringing it out, though, I think.

James MarshSeptember 8, 2010 10:36 PM

Love this film - very excited about this release! Didn't realise there were two cuts of it floating around though, will have to go back to my HKIFF 09 brochure & find out which version I saw, but will buy this either way - gorgeous film.

Tuan JimSeptember 9, 2010 12:26 AM

Yeah, I was hoping it might be one of my multi-dip projects (like the three editions of "Tears of the Black Tiger" I have (still missing the Thai release). But if it's no different from the Australian release at all, no point :(

funeral.bridesSeptember 9, 2010 1:09 AM

There's a huge difference between the two cuts.
Grandmother's ghost is completely missing from the shorter version.
If you've seen the DC, you couldn't have missed her - she is one of the major characters, who appears in at least a dozen scenes, and is central to the plot.

kiddusSeptember 9, 2010 5:38 AM

If you have no luck in USA or UK try Australia as it was released a couple of months back with good subs through "Madman". See their site on the net.

Ard VijnSeptember 9, 2010 5:58 AM

In that case I must have seen the longer version, because she is very specifically mentioned. You never see her as a character (except in the flashback when you see the lake being created), but the girls are constantly plagued by evil winds, dust storms etcetera. When they return to their village it's not to keep their promise, but to still their Grandma's anger.

Right? Please correct me if I'm wrong...
I'd love to be able to say I saw the longer version, but on the other hand if there is another one floating about that's 15 minutes longer I DEFINITELY need to see that one!

Sad news: I contacted sources in Serbia and even though "Tears for Sale" was one of their biggest domestic successes, there is no interest in releasing the Director's Cut or ane version with English subtitles. Neither is the company interested in releasing a BluRay as they think the local market is too small for that.

I truly hope someone will pick this up and releases a special edition with both versions, on BluRay...

Matthew LeeSeptember 9, 2010 7:14 AM

You do see the early flashback in the shorter version, Ard, but none of the other scenes you mention. I can see why they'd cut them, though without seeing the DC I can't pass judgement on its effectiveness...


I'd definitely agree I would really love to see it on BluRay.

Tuan JimSeptember 9, 2010 8:12 AM

This is the Australian release: http://www.ezydvd.com.au/item.zml/814261

Barebones, 86 min.

Tuan JimSeptember 9, 2010 8:13 AM

In fact the distributor is actually listed as ICON - so it might very well be exactly the same as the UK dvd.

funeral.bridesSeptember 9, 2010 1:26 PM

Ard, what you described is the short version.
In the longer one, the grandmother, an older woman than the one in the flashback, appears as a character extensively throughout the movie.

Ard VijnSeptember 9, 2010 1:39 PM

Thanks funeral.brides, at least now I'm sure.

So the good news is: the film I saw and loved is now easily available on DVD.

The bad news is: there is a LONGER version and I can't get at it. Crap!

So this is what I'll do: I'll wait till the DVD has gone cheapo and buy it. Then I'll wait a lot longer until SOMEONE (Eureka, Criterion) releases the DC as a BluRay, and double-dip...

Ard VijnSeptember 9, 2010 1:40 PM

Thanks funeral.brides, at least now I'm sure.

So the good news is: the film I saw and loved is now easily available on DVD.

The bad news is: there is a LONGER version and I can't get at it. Crap!

So this is what I'll do: I'll wait till the DVD has gone cheapo and buy it. Then I'll wait a lot longer until SOMEONE (Eureka, Criterion) releases the DC as a BluRay, and double-dip...