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Blood Tea And Red String by Christiane Cegavske (Dir.)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Cinema Epoch DVD  ISBN/ITEM#: B000HIVIRY
Date: 07 November, 2006 List Price $24.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

A story told through the medium of animated dolls (much like the classic Rankin-Bass Xmas specials featuring Rudolph and company, but much more like the much more recent and much less famous Jan Svankmajer fantasy features) and without the explanatory assistance of dialogue, Blood Tea and Red String begins when a group of mice who walk upright, dress in quaint period costume and live in a hollow tree, pay a similarly garbed and housed family of crows to build a human girl doll (to match a photograph in a cameo). The crows craft the doll as ordered, but then become helplessly attached to the doll themselves, so enamored of it, in fact, that they refuse to turn it over when the mice come to collect on their order. The mice then resort to sneaking up on the crows' tree in the middle of the night and stealing the doll. Bereft and heartbroken, the crows prepare for a long journey, donning cloaks and examining a remarkably Tolkienesque map before they set out to recover the doll, and experience an episodic series of entrancing, surreal adventures along the way.

The way my description seems to dodge the question of what significance the obsession-inspiring doll has or seems to have in this movie, points directly at the old school surrealism which invests and informs every detail of this animated oddity. Like the famous Bunuel/Dali collaborations, or (most particularly and consciously) the aforementioned feature-length works of Jan Svankmajer, Blood Tea and Red String is filled with objects and actions, including the two phrases which make up the title, which seemingly seethe with encoded significance, when in fact, if Blood Tea and Red String is as studiously traditional in its surrealism as its obvious inspirations were, no specific "significance" is ever intended; as in dream, meaning is entirely psychological, and personal, that is to say individual with each viewer, and not intentionally imposed upon the text by its author (in this case Christiane Cegavske, the notable talent who wrote, directed, and produced this movie).

What makes Blood Tea and Red String worth reviewing here, is that its other obvious influences are classic juvenile and heroic quest fantasies. Various bits of story and design recall or draw on Tolkien (as aforementioned), Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, The Wind in the Willows; like the Jiri Trnka cartoons that also stand among its influences, Blood Tea and Red String would be great entertainment for very small children, if it weren't for its potentially frightening strangeness. (Older kids who like weird animation will definitely get into this movie; if I'd seen it when I was ten or eleven years old, during a period of time when I was really obsessed with Yellow Submarine and Fantastic Planet, I would have fallen completely in love with it.) The weirdness and abstraction are tempered by a greater attention to the exigencies of narrative storytelling, than, say, those Bunuel/Dali movies; on one level Christiane Cegavske is making a pure art film, but on another level, it's still a functional fairy tale for children; and while she spends more energy pursuing the first goal, her movie is still engaging and satisfying as a fantasy, as well.

Like the dark and disturbing Russian movie Visions of Suffering, Blood Tea and Red String is mostly remarkable as deeply personal experimentalism; however, it also shows a serious interest in and modestly succeeds as genre fantasy. In the case of both movies, fantasy fans who also appreciate the bizarre and experimental will find themselves uniquely entertained; and in the case of Blood Tea and Red String, such folks can watch it with their kids, if the kids like strange stuff just as much as their parents do (which is certainly the case in my family).

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