Dir:Anders Ronnow Klarlund. Den-Swe-UK-Nor. 2004. 92mins.
Say "puppet movie" and most people think of the Muppetsor, at a push, Pinocchio - who has most famously come to life on screen in cartoon and live action form.Traditional marionettes have always messed with the suspension of disbeliefthat appears to be necessary in the cinematic medium: all those strings remindus constantly that these are not funny little people but, er, puppets.
Danish director AndersRonnow Klarund has got around the problem in his full-length marionette featureby making the strings a part of the story: they are the threads that tie thecharacters of this fantasy land to the gods that control them, and to eachother.
Theresult is Strings, a ravishing,thought-provoking movie that will play equally well with children (from aroundseven up) and their parents. With a swathe of distributors already in place(major territories include France, Germany and Korea) and other deals in theoffing, it looks as though it will amply justify its four-year production slog,and more than make back its relatively modest Euros 5m budget.
Its success in many territories will depend on the bravura of thevoice-over actors who are called on to give these marionettes a voice. The filmso far exists in two versions, Danish and English - the latter well-dubbed by acast of British name actors, including Derek Jacobi, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover and Ian Hart.
Auxiliaryprospects look strong too - the inevitable "making of" feature can be countedon to add real bonus value, for once, to the DVD. The film premiered inDirectors Fortnight at Venice.
Theopening credit sequence, where we see the hands of some of the 22 puppeteerswho worked on the film manoeuvring their charges, makes it clear that this isnot an animated film in the accepted sense of the word. Each of the figures isa true, string-operated wooden marionette - though of a new type, created byIcelandic master puppeteer Bernd Ogodnik to allow for more supple and realisticlimb movements.
Theplot mixes love, war and revenge in a fantasy landscape that comes across ashalf Middle Earth, half the Middle East around the time of Solomon. PartShakespearian power study, part a Romeo & Juliet tale about theproblems of falling in love with someone on the wrong side, the occasionallywoolly story centres on the journey of Hebalonian prince Hal Tara to revengehis father's death. He wrongly believes this to be the work of the Zeriths, anomadic warrior tribe who are sworn enemies of Hebalon (and who we soonidentify as proto-Palestinians, evicted from their homeland and harried intolaunching their own Intifada).
Ittakes a little concentration at first to keep up with the barrage of exoticnames, but the story gels soon enough - at which point we can relax and beginto enjoy the sheer inventiveness of the exercise.
It'sthe clever way that the puppet metaphor is developed that provides the realenjoyment; characters are wounded by having their limb strings cut, killed bysevering the main head string; new-made babies, covered in wood shavings, arebrought to life when their strings fall down from heaven and, once attached,fill up with vital fluid. Damaged hands, feet and limbs can only be replaced byunscrewing them from other living puppets - which leads to a lively trade inslaves, who are viewed as walking spare parts.
Itall makes for a feature with a surprisingly sumptuous look, the product ofatmospheric lighting and imaginative scope-ratio camerawork, together with ameticulous scenography of models and painted backdrops that looks hyper-real,rather than boringly theatrical.
Prod cos: Bald Film, Revival, Zentropa Entertainments 5,Nordisk Film Production, Bob Film Sweden, Bird Pic
Int'l sales: Trust Film Sales
Prod: Niels Bald
Scr: Naja MariaAidt, Anders Ronnow Klarlund
Cine: Kim Hattesen, Jan Weincke
Prod des: Sven Wichmann, David Drachmann
Ed: Leif Axel Kjeldsen
Prod des: David Drachmann
Mus: Jorgen Lauritsen
Master puppeteer: Bernd Ogodnik