Smells like Smoke and Mirrors – Tears for Sale

Amusing and sentimental by turns this Serbian feature is a look at what happened to the women when the men were all gone after the war. With twisted characters contrasting out of place innocence Tears for Sale is dark and sexy and funny. Set in a war-torn country on the cusp of the swinging 20s it is a tale made for cinema with its amazing cinematography and optical illusions. A great debut film it was a high earner in its native country 2 years ago and now you can enjoy its supernatural allure

When Tears for Sale appears on the screen it is a magical moment, the colours and sounds and the feel of the piece scream fairy tale and magic. There is a voice-over telling us all about how after World War I in Serbia most of the men were dead and gone and this was the tale of the women. Focused on sisters who wail at funerals for a living (hence the title), Ognjenka (Katarina Radivojevic) and Bogninja (Sonja Kolacaric) decide to lose their virginity to the only remaining male in the village, Grandpa Bisa. Unfortunately they manage to kill him before the deed is done and the other women in their outrage condemn the sisters to death by burning at the stake. Ognjenka and Bogninja gain a reprieve when they promise to leave their mountain village on a quest to bring back a healthy male as a replacement. They have only 3 days to accomplish this task or they will die and their grandmother’s spirit will also wander lost forever if they fail.

The supporting cast is made up mostly of women from the village an amazing assortment of witches, idiots, widows and drunkards. There is a bar keep who has a special sort of brandy  – with a spider (gulp!) suspended inside the bottle (much like a tequila worm and with the same effects as mescal). The sisters finally run into 2 men who are a pair of circus showmen, as bizarre as the rest of the characters and with whom the girls fall in love. Man of Steel (Nenad Jezdic) is a comic figure and plays it straight whilst the Charleston King (Stefan Kapicic) is all charm and guile.

Having a world populated mostly by women is an interesting one; a lot of them assume the roles left by men. The town drunk is hilarious with her ruddy cheeks and broken veined nose, other women variously play soldiers and the like. However, the one thing they all have in common is their need (read lust) for men and how they miss them.

The setting is surreal and the colour sepia toned; this is a visual feast akin to one of Tim Burton’s or Terry Gilliam’s creations. As a debut feature from Uros Stojanovic it is stunning. The sunken graveyard in which the sisters live is a marvel to look at and this is a very dark and wondrous place to be, pity the film feels so short.

There is a narrator throughout who puts you in mind of Amelie immediately, conjuring up the same feel-good glow, which that French classic left you with. It is also a useful device for those of us not familiar with Serbia or her history as it fills in a few gaps. As an allegorical tale this reveals much of the character of Serbia and indeed the ending will strike some in Western Europe as unexpectedly downbeat and this in itself feels like a reflection of the national character. It appears that stereotypes of the mythical Serbian are poked fun at (the eagerness of the men to fight all the time?) but without any insight into Serbia as a nation this is still a magic film and well worth a look.

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