Imagine a fantasy film about the misdirected prince of a dead king, sent out to get revenge against a neighboring nation. A movie of swords, enslavement, armies, and death.
Now imagine this is all done with stringed marionettes.
Moreover, imagine that these marionettes are aware of their strings.
Strings is an award-winning 2004 puppet movie, directed by Anders Rønnow Klarlund with puppeteering by Bernd Ogrodnik. It’s set in a fantasy kingdom of swords (very important for cutting strings) and monsters (cobbled together from leftover bodies).
The plot includes many twists, starting in the first few minutes, which I have no interest in spoiling. This is a dark story, dealing with slavery, child endangerment, mutilation (though it’s just unscrewing wooden limbs, it’s horrifying to the characters), and a few other squicky themes.
It’s also lavishly constructed and presented. The sets feel spacious and lived-in. Outdoor spaces feel like they’re actually outdoors.
The creators clearly thought through the consequences of their premise. The gate to the city is simply a bar raised over the gate. If your strings can’t get past it, neither can you.
Most importantly, only a few minutes into the film, I was completely entranced by it. These puppets act, despite no facial movement. A head dips slightly, or turns, and I could see the character thinking. Amazing.
Puppet theater has existed for many decades, of course, and Strings builds on a rich tradition filled with great skill. This is a film that showcases the apex of the puppeteer’s art.