Review
Blood Tea and Red String
© 2005 Christiane Cegavske
Brett Rogers · January 15, 2007 | Written, produced, animated, edited and directed by Christiane Cegavske, Blood Tea and Red String is a murky stop-motion fairy tale that sets a group of white mice, red-eyed and clad in ruffled cuffs and Victorian coats, against the Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak: furry, bird beaked, bat-like creatures, sans wings, in a fight for possession of a dour, pale faced female doll with an egg stitched into her belly.

Commissioned by the White Mice to create the doll, the Oak Creatures lovingly craft a female form in their tree trunk habitat, but can't part with her once she's complete. When the White Mice arrive to claim their doll, the Oak Creatures refuse to turn her over and attempt to return their fee. Enraged, the mice depart in their turtle-drawn carriage, only to return under cover of darkness to sneak the doll away to their ghoulish cottage, guarded by skull-faced sunflowers. Once inside, the mice drink blood tea into the night with their doll while playing a madcap game of cards using a blank deck.

The Oak Creatures, meanwhile, have embarked on a quest to find their beloved creation and return her to the oak tree. The Creatures rove through a fantastic landscape of streams, fields, macabre woods and fanciful gardens. Along the way the Oak Creatures encounter hallucinogenic fruit trees, deadly plants, a frog medicine man and a spider with a woman's face, interacting with each in enigmatic, dialogue-free expressions that create breathtakingly intricate personas with nothing more than crow-like squawks and carefully sculpted motion.

Blood Tea and Red String
Directed and animated by Christiane Cegavske
Distributed by Cinema Epoch, 2006
71 minutes

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As the tale progresses, the film becomes increasingly bizarre and morbid as the Oak Creatures and White Mice see their quest for control of the doll suddenly trumped by pursuit of a bluebird with a human head that hatches from the doll's body and takes flight. What results is an accidental fable on class struggle that briefly gathers but never fully forms as the film's ephemeral narrative washes by.

Cegavske, whose work was previously featured in the animated segments of Asia Argento's The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things, spent thirteen years meticulously crafting Blood Tea out of the wonderfully dark inspiration of her sketches and a loose story outline. It's extraordinary that Cegavske was still cobbling the story together even as she completed segments of the film out of order. The natural flow of the final product is a testament to how close the creator was to her creation.

Music by multi-instrumentalist folk composer and performer Mark Growden suits the film perfectly, wrapping Blood Tea's intricate scenery and its characters' wordless dialect in a lingering, haunting layer of spectral sound. Cegavske's style evokes Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay but stands on its own. Blood Tea is an artist's personal vision exquisitely realized and an antidote to modern digital precision and diluted creativity.

DVD Features: 4:3 aspect ratio; English audio track; Region 1.

DVD Extras: Commentary by Christiane Cegavske and critic Luke Thompson; character and productions stills; miniature paintings by Cegavske; trailer.
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