Directed by: Rainer Sarnet
Cast: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Arvo Kukumägi
November is an odd film. It’s a very odd, and very strange film; almost completely impossible to describe in words. This isn’t to say that November is a bad film, in fact, it is quite the opposite. November is a stunningly beautiful film with achingly gorgeous cinematography and a haunting score. Directed by Rainer Sarnet, November was Estonia’s entry to the 90th Academy awards, adapted from Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp ehk November (which has sold over 25,000 copies making him the most popular 21st century Estonian writer). November is a fairytale at its core. A very grim, strange and surreal fairytale with a moral message at its core, of how love is a fickle thing that can melt away as quickly as the snow. November feels like the film that Andrei Tarkovsky never made, crossed with a dash of Ingmar Bergman’s 1960s films (like Persona and The Hour of the Wolf), and a small splash of Lars Von Trier Antichrist. Beauty is in the surreal.
In 19th century Estonia, a village is inhabited by Black Death (who takes on the form of a pig), spirits, witches, werewolves and the Devil himself. A peasant girl, Liina (Rea Lest), longs for a village boy Hans, while Hans longs for a daughter of an aristocrat (Jette Loona Hermanis),. Liina is to be betrothed to a much older farmer, who repulses her. Both try to use mythical powers to win the hearts and minds of their ‘true’ love. Liina asks the village witch to help her, a toothless hag who has her own sad story of love to tell. And, Hans makes a snowman which comes to life to disperse advice and wisdom, before melting away as the winter season slowly changes. However, things don’t go according to plan and devastating consequences occur as a result. Can their love survive even the toughest and most barren of places?
The film begins strangely; with shots a snowy landscape, a beautiful frozen river and a wolf roaming around being curious and its surroundings. At first, everything seems peaceful and quiet. Then a strange anthropomorphic creature made out of human hair, metal coils and scythes appears in a barn with a cow, proceeding the steal the cow and fly away before dropping the creature (which remains relatively unharmed). The residents come out (Liina and her father) and seem unfazed by the metal creature, in fact the viewer discovers that Liina’s father made the thing, using a soul he brought from the devil at the crossroads in the forest. If you are confused and frustrated by the film’s opening five minutes, then it is possible that this may not be the film for you. The film’s mystery and intrigue are what capture the viewer’s interest, sucking them into this bleak, and alluring world.
The world in which November is set in feels like it exists outside of reality and time. Indeed, it feels like this films could be set in any time throughout history, is it in the past or a warning of our future to come? The film’s narrative is steadily paced, with the camera taking moments to simply pause and reflect on the landscape. Often feeling like a living embodiment of a fever dream, November will leave many viewers feeling puzzled and perplexed as they try to make sense of what events have taken place on screen with surreal moments like when Liina walks out at night, stripping and performing a magical ritual. Is she a werewolf, or is she somehow controlling Han’s lover? It is worth watching November a few times to fully soak the film’s aesthetics and consume it’s plot, and there is a new experience and reading to be had upon every viewing. It is highly likely that November will become a cult film and one that will be studied and analyzed for years to come. This may be a hard film for some to watch, but it’s a rewarding watch and makes it one of this year’s most unique viewing experiences.
The film’s lead, Rea Lest is memorizing to watch on screen and the camera seems drawn to her presence. Her co-stars, Jorgen Liik and Jette Loona Hermanis also give a strong performance. And the film’s supporting cast made up of real oddballs helps to reinforce this strange world that November inhabits. The film’s crisp cinematography by director of photography Mart Taniel makes every shot worthy of being hung in an art gallery, and the film’s score by Polish musician Jacaszek adds to the film’s atmosphere and makes the very hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There really isn’t another film like November out there, and in a world of increasing sequels, and remakes, it is refreshing to watch a film that isn’t afraid to be different and daring.