Strings (2004)
Directed by Anders Rønnow Klarlund

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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After the king of Helbaron commits suicide, his son and heir, Hal Tara, is tricked into believing that his father was assassinated by Zita, the leader of his people's enemies, the Zeriths. Enraged by this crime, Hal sets out to kill Zita, but, even as he is doing so, his wicked uncle, Nezo, is plotting to murder him and seize the throne. Meanwhile, as he travels in disguise, Hal learns about the misdeeds of his own nation and comes to question the rightness of the war they are fighting.

While there are times when it is burdened by shallow but interminable meditations, Anders Rønnow Klarlund's Strings, which is performed entirely by marionettes, is a genuinely captivating and consistently lovely film.

In fact, the movie is often stunning visually. The sets are invariably lavish and evoke a truly unique magical world. At different points, the director reveals vibrant, colorful bazaars, ornate palaces, grim prisons, dark, haunted forests, eerie catacombs inhabited by rotting but still living cadavers, and frozen lakes filled with the remains of slaughtered women and children. Not only are all of these places, and the others the director depicts, beautiful on their own, but they are also so sensitively filmed that the viewer is sure to be enchanted by their harsh or ethereal loveliness.

What is more, the puppets which appear in the film are generally well conceived. Some, with their deeply scarred wooden faces, appear to have been hacked and chopped in countless battles. Others, such as the lithe, surprisingly sensuous Zita and Hal's delicate porcelain sister, Jhinna, are sweet and graceful, and still others, such as the impoverished slaves of the tale's aristocrats, are crudely carved in almost abstract forms. There is hardly one of these creations that does not help to transport the viewer into the director's imaginary landscapes.

Intriguingly, instead of representing men, animals, or mythical beasts, these puppets always appear as puppets, and their universe is packed with details that reflect this conceit. The moviegoer is thus shown how, when injured, noble characters will use their slaves to provide them with spare parts. When, for instance, the string supporting Hal's hand is cut in a fight early in the film, it is replaced with a hand taken from another puppet. At other times, the director shows how, as the characters are all moved by strings which reach up into the heavens, they cannot pass beneath anything. None of their houses, therefore, have roofs, and the gate to Helbaron is a beam that is raised up between two sheer cliffs.

The tale Klarlund narrates in Strings is also usually fascinating and its characters are generally skillfully crafted. Hal is a decent youth who, being unaware of his people's past crimes, hates those who fight against them. His uncle's henchman, Ghrak, though cruel and brutish, is revealed to be moved by a sense of honor Hal's own father apparently did not have. Zita, the leader of the Zeriths, is shown to have a profound sensitivity, but her people are exposed as being capable of as much cruelty as are those they are fighting. By making use of such engaging individuals, the director has given his simple tale of intrigue and revenge a delicious poignancy that it might not otherwise have had.

In spite of such virtues, the movie is not, by any means, without flaws. There are times, especially as Strings approaches its conclusion, when the director does indulge in very extended discussions about morality or mysticism that can come across as trite and contrived. The presence of these monologues does, consequently, distract the viewer from the film's tale and dilute its emotive effect.

While, as a result of its shortcomings, it may not be a masterpiece, Strings is a lovely, bewitching movie that is certainly worth seeing.

Review by Keith Allen

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