Tatia Rosenthal’s stop-motion animated film $9.99 slipped quietly into theaters this week after almost a decade in the making. Based on the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, the film is an ensemble piece about the sad and delightful residents (including an angel) of an Australian building and a $9.99 guidebook to the meaning of life… or how to swim like a dolphin!

I saw the film as part of New Directors New Films at the MOMA in March and was charmed by the way its deadpan humor grapples with serious and everyday human problems in an absurd and fantastic way. It’s a sort of animated SHORT CUTS but with characters like a bankrupt magician, a disgruntled guardian angel, a little boy and his beloved piggy bank… and just when you think you’ve got things figured out the world cracks open with delightful magical realism and sweeps the story off in a new direction.

As one can imagine, getting something this original financed is probably nearly impossible… imagine the pitch… WALLACE AND GROMIT meets SHORT CUTS meets KAFKA… but after seven years of searching, $9.99 finally came to fruition with an unlikely Israeli-Australian co-production. With the film based in Australia, Rosenthal was able to cast amazing Australian actors like Geoffrey Rush and Anthony Lapaglia to play the voices. At New Directors, Rosenthal described how she first got the actors’ voice performances and then based on them she animated, respecting the pauses and silent moments. This really pays off as we are sucked in by the feeling that these characters have a rich inner life and are actually thinking, anticipating, fretting before they try to communicate. Many years ago I became a fan of Rosenthal’s NYU short film CRAZY GLUE, also based on a Keret short story. This 5 minute short tells the story of a troubled marriage saved by the binding power of… glue. Even with the span of a decade and its less sophisticated animating tools, the short has held up well and feels like a true ancestor to the feature. Watch it and if it charms you then get to the theaters before this original and wonderful film vanishes…