Christiane Cesgavske’s stop-motion animated feature “Blood Tea and Red String” calls to mind the spirit and style of Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay, with more than a little David Lynch thrown in for good creepy measure. This independent production, which took 13 years to complete, provides a striking alternative to the synthetic CGI animated fare being excreted from the Hollywood fun factories.
“Blood Tea and Red String” is told without dialogue, but who needs words when you have such an effective composed tale? The White Mice, the wealthier creatures of the forest, commission the Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak (sort of hybrid fox-bird beings) to create the most beautiful doll in the world. The Oak Dwellers fall in love with their creation and refund the White Mice’s commission – and even refuse their attempts to buy the doll for more money. They show their love for the doll by sewing a stream-borne egg into its abdomen and hanging the doll, crucifix-style, from the branches of their oak tree (the doll’s hands are tied to the tree with red string, giving it a stigmata effect).
The White Mice, who are not the nicest rodents around, return one night and steal the doll. The Oak Dwellers then set forth on a journey to rescue their creation from the miscreant mice. Along the way, they have fantastic adventures involving potentially carnivorous flowers and a wise frog who saves them from harm’s way.
“Blood Tea and Red String” is rich with imaginative imagery and droll sight gags – the mice ride in a carriage drawn by a tortoise and play a card game where the cards seem to be completely blank, while the Oak Dwellers live among sunflowers with beautiful faces and engage in their own complex version of cat’s cradle (which must have been agonizing to create via stop-motion animation). Cesgavske’s vision is artistically stylish (the mice live in a debauched red-hued chamber while the Oak Dwellers bask in the green and gold of nature) – and there’s even running water created with the intricate positioning of light on cellophane.
One could argue “Blood Tea and Red String” might have worked better as a short subject rather than a 69-minute feature (the film’s pacing is, admittedly, a bit on the slow side and the segment with the wise frog doesn’t quite have the emotional punch as the rest of the film). Nonetheless, it is a stunning achievement that will appeal to anyone in search of a bold and captivating movie.