The Serbian film industry doesn’t get a lot of attention, but when people do talk about it terms like “familial fisting” and “ocular rape” are usually not too far behind. If all you knew was The Life And Death of A Porno Gang and A Serbian Film you’d be forgiven for assuming all movies coming out of Serbia involve hardcore sex, explicit violence, and a ridiculously nihilistic sense of humor. Basically, you’d be like me.
But that was before I watched Tears For Sale and discovered there are Serbian filmmakers interested in fairy tales and magic, romance and love, light humor and CGI-enhanced wonders. Of course, it’s from the writer of A Serbian Film so there’s also room for bountiful breasts, death, and at least one incredible saucy sex scene.
By the end of World War I two-thirds of Serbia’s male population is gone. The situation is even more dire in a small, unnamed village that saw all of their males head off to war as soon as they were taller than the rifles they’d be carrying. And the rifles kept getting shorter… Boginja and Ognjenka are sisters who make a living as professional wailers. “Basic wailing, 30 dinars,” they advertise. “Hair pulling and face scratching, 15 more.” They fear dying as virgin spinsters so they agree to be popped by the village’s only man, a very old man, but they freak out and scream at an inopportune time and accidentally kill the guy. The other women decide to burn the sisters as witches for their crime but instead strike a deal… if they can bring some men back to the village they’ll be allowed to live. The village witch resurrects their grandma as collateral against them running away and soon they’re heading down the mountain in search of fleshy bags of semen.
Their quest appears fruitless at first… they find a man but his town is full of armed women prepared to defend him from kidnapping, and another man turns out to be a woman dressed in uniform. But finally they meet two men perfect for the task at hand. One is a seductive lounge singer and the other is a strong man who shoots himself out of cannons. But returning them to the village may be even more difficult than finding them was as the beast with two backs rears its head. That’s “sex” for those of you not schooled in the works of Shakespeare. Further complications arise as the girls discover their new feelings of love going head to head against a village filled with competitors after the very same thing.
The core story within Tears For Sale is a whimsical romance, but it’s wrapped up in a delicate balance between magical fable and a look into Serbia’s tragic and violence-filled history. This fable is no children tale though as both thematic halves play to a decidedly adult audience. Death and sex are intertwined together with romance and loss. The sisters’ great grandmother is credited with creating the town’s pond with tears cried after her husband died in the war. One particularly impressive scene sees the lonely women getting drunk and imagining a visit from the ghosts of the town’s dead men. It’s cool visually speaking, but it’s also a powerful look at unfulfilled desire in a land where even the most basic wants and needs have often gone equally unrealized.
The movie does suffer a bit of a slowdown at times, usually when the magic takes a backseat to the repeated message of the women’s plight. That’s not really a knock as the film runs under ninety minutes and never really drags, but it’s a noticeable difference in tone. But more often than not the set-pieces work including a powerful dance scene and a live minefield that acts as the town’s sole source of income… and a frequent source of deaths.
Director Uros Stojanovic has crafted a film that comes close to being Serbia’s take on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. It’s magical realism, Eastern European style, and Stojanovic also manages to channel a little Terry Gilliam along the way. For all the fantasy elements though it’s still a much darker and more adult film than his more well-known peers have produced. The deaths are more prominent, the history carries more depth, and the women wear less clothes. Seriously, there are some very naked women here, although the director loses points for lighting the damned scenes in such a way as to make them difficult to fully enjoy. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.
Tears For Sale is available on region 2 DVD from Icon Home Entertainment
Related Topics: Foreign Objects