To say that Christiane Cegavske's grim, stop-motion animated fairy tale revolves around two families of furry creatures vying for possession of a life-size doll with an egg stitched into its belly doesn't begin to evoke the film's wondrous strangeness.
It opens with a trio of white mice, elegantly clad in starched ruffs and crimson frock coats that match their eyes, commissioning a doll from four odd creatures — imagine wingless bats with bird beaks — whose cottage is built into the trunk of a magnificent tree and guarded by benevolent sunflowers. The oak creatures make the doll, which has the inky hair and pale face of a Japanese kabuki doll, but when the mice come to collect, they can't let her go; they return the mice's money and refuse all offers of more. The angry mice eventually drive off in their red coach, drawn by a scuttling turtle. The oak dwellers find an oversize egg in a nearby stream and stitch it into the doll's belly with scarlet thread, then hang her beneath the tree's sheltering branches. But the mice return and spirit her back to their own macabre home, surrounded by death's-head sunflowers, where they play cards beneath the watchful eye of a raven with a human skull, and feed the doll blood-red tea. Eventually the oak creatures and the mice find themselves in simultaneous pursuit of the doll's "child" — a bluebird with a human head that hatches from the egg — as the tale becomes both increasingly macabre and bizarrely poignant.
Best known for the animated dream sequences in Asia Argento's adaptation of "J.T. Leroy"'s THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS (2005), Cegavske spent 13 years painstakingly creating every aspect of this film's off-kilter world, including a frog-sorcerer, cannibalistic pea pods, a spider with the head of a Victorian schoolmarm lurking in a bright-red web and a primly trippy sequence triggered by some berries the oak creatures find in a garden concealed at the heart of a maze. Despite the absence of dialogue — the mice squeak and the oak creatures caw like ravens — Cegavske imbues her scrappy little creatures with disturbingly complex personalities. And if the tale's moral is less than clear, its haunting images speak directly to some dark, preverbal corner of the heart. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh