Dir. Tatia Rosenthal.Israel/Australia, 2008. 78 mins.

Dealing with such lightweight issues as ‘the meaning of life’ and ‘happiness’ may seem a bit excessive for a stop-motion animated film weighing in at less than 78 minutes. But the film doesn’t take itself that seriously after all, defusing some of the pretentiousness by suggesting it offers nothing more than $9.99 worth of wisdom on these ambitious themes. And in any case, the main attraction here is the oblique irony of writer Etgar Keret and his off-the-wall humour, rather than the chance of finding a comprehensive solution to the problems of the world.

Adapted by Etgar Keret and director Tatia Rosenthal from a series of short stories originally written by Keret, this first-time Israeli-Australian co-production, coming as it does on the tracks of the enormous success of another Israeli animation, Waltz with Bashir, is most probably going to ride its wave, though it comes from a completely different place, both in themes and the type of technique used. Closer in spirit to Cannes’ 2007 Golden Camera winner Jellyfish, also based on Keret’s short stories, Rosenthal has chosen to replace actors with puppets. Keret’s sarcastically downbeat perception of the world is reflected in the look of their gloomy faces, the sad expression of the eyes and the colour palette chosen for the sets around them and costumes they wear. A specialized item that might attract Keret admirers, but generates neither the emotion nor the overall energy that the best animation is usually capable of, it will remain a curio niche item, though with a longer shelf life than usual.

Like most episode pieces, Rosenthal and Keret seem to have chosen the easy way out by not taking the trouble to develop any of the ideas beyond the basic anecdote. The entire action takes place in and around a building evidently inspired by Tel Aviv’s many Bauhaus houses. Its various tenants include a single father with two grown-up kids who are holding precarious jobs and still living at home; an old retiree who seeks some precise information about paradise; a loser left twice by his girlfriend in the course of the film who has intense conversations and smokes a few joints with three-inch high companions; a cover girl who likes her men and her furniture smooth and a little boy who falls in love with his smiling piggybank. The one alien who interferes with some of the tenants is a suspicious-looking hobo toting a gun who asks for a dollar to buy a coffee in the first sequence and shoots himself in the head when he doesn’t get it, only to reappear later with wings on his shoulder blades, which unsurprisingly he fails to use at a critical moment.

Presenting a plethora of jaundiced sketches on human conduct, the thing Keret has always done best, the film’s fate will ultimately depend on the puppets fashioned by Rosenthal for the occasion with puppeteer Philip Beadsmoore, production designer Doring and Leslie Osborne, who was in charge of the colour patterns.

Production companies
Sherman Pictures
Lama Films

Worldwide distribution

Executive producers
Mai Broudo
Hezi Bezalel

Emile Sherman
Amir Harel

Tatia Rosenthal
Etgar Keret

Susan Stitt
James Lewis
Richard Bradshaw

Main cast (voices)
Geoffrey Rush
Anthony LaPaglia
Samuel Johnson
Claudia Karvan
Joel Edgerton
Barry Otto
Leanna Walsman
Ben Mendelsohn
Brian Meagan