Tears for Sale (Carlston za Ognjenku) (2008, Director: Uroš Stojanovic): Reportedly the most expensive Serbian film ever made, Tears for Sale is a visual spectacle combining Balkan folklore with modern CGI to create a hugely enjoyable experience. Toronto critic Norman Wilner called it “batshit crazy,” and he’s not wrong, but I saw that as a positive going in, and I was not disappointed at all.
The film is set in a Serbian village in 1918, at the end of the Great War, and the women of the village are mourning the deaths of all their men in battle. We meet a pair of sisters, Little Boginja and Ognjenka, who work as professional mourners at the many funerals held in the village. They’re kept even busier due to the fact that the village’s sole source of income, its vineyard, is a minefield. The sisters are desperate to lose their virginity but when the women of the village bring Ognjenka to the town’s only remaining man, a repulsive old creature named Grandpa Bisa, her scream kills him. To avoid being burned at the stake for this crime, the sisters promise to bring back a virile young man within three days. They’re bound by the village witch’s curse on the spirit of their beloved grandmother.
They set out on this adventure and encounter other villages in their situation, bringing home the gravity of the region’s history of interminable warfare. Though much of the film is played for laughs, there is a very real Balkan sadness just under the surface. Finally, in a larger town, they meet a pair of traveling performers: Arsa is a suave entertainer who can dance the Charleston, and Dragoljub calls himself the Man of Steel and goes around shooting himself out of a cannon. The two sisters pair off and separate, each hoping to escape to the big city of Belgrade with their new love. Each hopes the other will bring the man back to their village, but in the end, both return, with tragic results.
The plot is really more of a fairytale, and the visual effects are fantastic, very much like something from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amelie, A Very Long Engagement). Additionally, the art direction and costumes are sumptuous and over-the-top, and it doesn’t hurt that the whole film is also incredibly sexy. Though I’m doubtful this will get any sort of North American theatrical release, I’m already waiting for the DVD.
P.S. The Serbian title translates to “Charleston and Vendetta” (Vendetta apparently being the translation of the older sister Ognjenka’s name).