There have been puppet films and tv series before everything from Gerry Anderson Stingray (1963-4), Thunderbirds (1964-6), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967) et al and the Muppets to the more recent likes of Team America: World Police (2004). On a purely technical level, the puppetry in Strings is no more advanced than any of these films indeed, the puppets in Team America, which came out the same year, are far more fluid and expressive than the ones here. The uniqueness about Strings is that the puppetry, rather than being a few annoying strings that occasionally unintentionally show up on screen, is wound into the film as a metaphor. The plot of Strings is little more than a standard fantasy quest king usurped by an evil vizier, the prince heir who sets forth into the wilderness to find his destiny where he eventually finds love and an army to fight back. However, around this, director/co-writer Anders Rønnow-Klarlund constructs a fundamental reality where the puppets exist as beings that are made of wood and move on strings. This allows for imagery and a worldview that is breathtaking in its originality.
In the opening moments, we see the aging king commit suicide by cutting the string that holds his head up. In the next few moments, Anders Rønnow-Klarlunds camera pulls back to show a remarkable wide-angle of the exterior of the city where the strings of each person stretch up into the clouds and the camera then follows the forest of strings as they disappear up into the heavens. Elsewhere, we see a team of slaves labouring over a wheeled wagon in the desert under the sweltering heat of the sun while their lifestrings stretch up in a tiny nested cluster above the wagon; a Hebalon prison that consists merely of an open room with a lattice above that imprisons each puppet within its square, leaving their strings unable to stretch beyond each prisoners assigned space; or the climactic battle between the opposing forces with the lifestrings of combatants being set alight and their wooden bodies charred to crisp. Anders Rønnow-Klarlund manages to create some extraordinary moments of beauty and tenderness in the film, especially the scene where a baby is newly born and a glowing tendril floats down from Heaven and is attached to the childs head, bringing it to life. The scene where a slave is tied down and his hand unscrewed to be taken and attached as replacement for the princes hand that has been severed during sword training comes with an amazing degree of pain and suffering.
Though the puppets lack any mobility of features, the marionetteers skill is so extraordinary that the characters succeed in conveying an amazing range of tenderness and expression with infinitely subtle nuance. The puppeteers skill and the breathtaking originality of Anders Rønnow-Klarlunds metaphor make Strings one of the most unique and original films that one has seen in some time.
Danish-born director Anders Rønnow-Klarlund first appeared with the multi-stranded drama The Eighteens (1996) and then made the horror film Possessed (1999), which was produced, like Strings is, by Lars von Triers Zentropa Entertainments. While Possessed was a passable but not hugely distinctive a film, Strings marks Anders Rønnow-Klarlund as a major new talent worth watching in future. Rønnow-Klarlund subsequently went onto make the satirical How to Get Rid of Others (2007) about a future Denmark where those who do not meet the criteria of socially worthy are eliminated.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2004 list).