It took Christiane Cegavske 13 years to make Blood Tea and Red String. If you haven’t heard of it already, then you will surely see more of it because Cegavske’s second film Seed in the Sand has collected over 100K followers on Instagram. Its trailer in October 2022 suggests movie media will catch on sometime soon.
Blood Tea and Red String is an animation, though don’t confuse animation with entertainment for children. Much like Jan Svankmajer’s sinister stop-motion classics, Blood Tea and Red String is aimed at a more adult audience. Death is certainly a theme, alongside striving for your heart’s desire. On the converse side of this, birth, the brevity of life, and disappointment also feature heavily. There are moments that are simply shocking and could result in tears in younger viewers.
The opening credits show a human character cutting a slice of cake and putting an egg into a teapot. Next, some creatures with beaks and fur, who walk upright and wear clothes – referred to as the Oak Dwellers due to their abode – are paid to make a life-sized doll by some White Mice in red costumes and ruffles. When the mice come to collect the doll, the Oak Dwellers give back the gold coins and refuse to part with her – they’ve fallen in love with her.
The Oak Dwellers live an idyllic existence, spending their days in the leafy shade, talking to their plants, playing ball games and music on a flute. One of them brings an egg, which they stitch inside the doll’s belly. Then they climb a ladder and suspend her above their front door. That night, the White Mice return in their tortoise-driven carriage, stealing the doll and taking her away to their lands.
The Oak Dwellers embark on an adventure to retrieve the doll. While they are passing through corn fields, they find a mysterious walled garden whose fruit makes them hallucinate and curl up asleep inside flesh-eating flowers. A Frog Sorceress comes and releases the trio from the plants and later, when they continue their journey, they spend an evening with her roasting worms for dinner.
Meanwhile, the White Mice have reached their own cottage flanked by skulls, where they get drunk on blood tea and play a game of cards. One of them cuts some roses that are growing outside, an act that is ironic because essentially the mouse kills something in order to appreciate its beauty. They wish the doll was alive and pretend she’s drinking the tea with them. Wishes come true when eventually the egg inside the doll breaks open and a miniature version of her head on a bird’s body shakes itself off and flies away. It flies over the Oak Dwellers, who recognise what it is and give chase.
Unfortunately, by the time the Oak Dwellers catch up to the little bird-woman she’s in grave danger from a spider. They take her to the Frog Sorceress to be healed. She makes a magic mark on the bird’s chest and enshrouds it between two leaves. Here, an assumption is made by the viewer that the sorceress’ power will be enough to restore the bird-woman’s health. The realisation that the bird has been prepared for burial is brutal. Her life was so brief. When they are ready, the Oak Dwellers say farewell to the little bird-woman by casting her into a fast-flowing stream.
At the end of the film, the human figure we met at the beginning is about to eat the slice of cake and is pouring herself tea to go with it. Out of the teapot tumbles some leaves like those containing the bird-woman. The human cuts them open, but instead of our heroine, she finds a gemstone. The egg passed from the human world to the animated and back again transformed into something immortal. Blood Tea and Red String is dark, emblematic, and exquisite. The imagery surrenders to Cegavske’s love of Surrealism. You can currently find it on Amazon.