Beautiful and haunting, and a sure bet for connoisseurs of the avant-garde, this highly handmade, dialogue-free, stop-motion feature is so achingly lovely, so immersive in a genuine childhood world, that it's hard to image a viewer walking away unmoved. Christiane Cegavske--an animator and model-maker whose handiwork appears in the 2001 animated-shorts series "X-Chromosome" that ran on the cable network Oxygen and the 2004 Asia Argento film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things--spent 13 years almost single-handedly crafting this vision, and the time and toil show. If you've ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a carousel horse, or pondered about the fairy tales that didn't survive from oral tradition to print, Blood Tea and Red String resonates with wonder and grace.

Following a live-action scene of a masked woman preparing cake and tea, we retreat to a forest inhabited by furry fox/bear creatures who emit crow-like caws from their beaks; save for their Victorian children's dress, they resemble nothing so much as medieval physicians' hazmat headgear during the Black Death. Named in the credits as "Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak," they accept an assignment from rich, velvet-dressed mice who want them to build a life-size (at their size) doll of the woman we've seen. The Creatures do so, but then cannot bear to part with it no matter how much additional money the mice offer. Placing an egg inside the doll's belly, they mount her on their oak tree.

The mice, in a carriage pulled by a tortoise, sneak by that night and steal the effigy. When the Creatures discover this the following day, three of them discreetly follow the trail. Danger and hallucinogenic plants abound, as does a shaman frog who helps them on their way. The egg, meanwhile, has hatched to reveal a winged woman, who soon falls prey to a spider that cocoons her in red string. The Creatures barter for her, while one of the mice falls in love with the remains of the doll. Love, with all its euphoria and sadness, plays out among all.

Cegavske well understands that childhood dreams and fables are often as disturbing and nightmarish as not, and while her fable has danger and peril-Venus flytrap-like plants seduce the Creatures with sleep and wrap them in leafy cocoons; the mice injure or perhaps kill the spider-there's a reassuring undercurrent. While the ending is ambiguous, it seems clear that to hold too tightly to something we love is, as they always say, the surest path to losing it.