November (Rainer Sarnet, 2017)

November navigates the lives of poor Estonian villagers through the harsh landscape of a cold winter, stealing and thieving their way through survival. Folklore and traditions dictate their questionable behaviour, offering their blood to the Devil in exchange for a soul to inhabit their Kratt (a man-made and often crudely-constructed thing that aids the villagers in their cheating) and attending All Soul’s Day, an event in which families can visit their dead relatives who eerily march through the forest in unison clothed in stark white robes, before they bathe in hot water and turn into chickens. The bizarre reality of the world in which these villagers live in is, by definition, magical, yet the implication of that word is abandoned.

Despite the love potions and soul-selling that the characters use to barter and change their own lives, the harshness of their acts and the obsession with constantly stealing from each other (even when their houses are quite literally overflowing with useless stuff) matches the cold and bitter landscape that they live in. The nonchalant way they interact with the Devil, the obviousness in their reactions to the shapeshifting Plague (in the form of a goat, to which they fool into leaving them by pulling their trousers over their head because “it will think you have two arses”), and the fact that some of them can literally change into werewolves, is shown to be such a basic and awful way of living that it becomes mundane and undesirable. As nothing has that ‘magical spark’ it creates an atmosphere of grit, coldness, unfairness; essentially a very relatable reality in spite of the abstract storyline and imagery. It’s clever, and unique, and the absolutely stunning cinematography of the landscapes (including the choice to film in black and white to produce memorable crisp images) and awful people that reside in it makes for a fascinating world to watch. However, the sad romance story that’s weaved throughout the stealing, corruption, thieving, and general immoral acts and distasteful exploits, allows for a small ounce of hope within what would otherwise be two hours of characters too rotten to keep watching.

Liina (Rea Lest) is set to be married off to an old farmer, after her father drunkenly sold her one night. It becomes apparent that she is in love with her friend Hans, (Jörgen Liik), a village boy that is infatuated with the visiting German Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis) who lives apart from the poor Estonians in a beautiful Gothic mansion. In November, the characters have an ‘every man for himself’ lifestyle, which is what sets Hans and Liina apart from the rest. Hans may be blind towards Liina’s feelings for him, and Liina may occasionally be imprudent in her attempts to gain Hans’ affection, but the fact they are governed by love instead of stealing, giving instead of taking, is a piercing message to have in relation to the overall content of the narrative.

The story is definitely weird, and odd, and seemingly nonsensical at times, but it suits the formal qualities so well. The sounds of the clanking of the awkward metal Kratt, the noises of nature and farm animals that the villagers live amongst, and the overexposed lightness of these images in their gothic snow-scape altogether creates an organic and quintessentially biological context for the themes that November has. Their world is natural, so their crude and vicious acts become natural; the myths and magic become as basic as their instincts, and vice-versa. Despite the range and variety that their folklore has, the audience can still understand how trapped the characters actually are, in their village and in themselves. Liina and Hans seem to act as vessels to break the barrier they’ve actually just created themselves.

The concept of souls is passed around November, as equally offbeat as the peculiar magical acts the characters indulge in. Understandably hard to grasp at times, the storyline itself is overshadowed by the cinematography. The visual aspect of this film is abstract and artistic, definitely an exploration of techniques and imagery. Whether you’re interested in the tale or the aesthetic, this film is worth the watch.

8.5/10

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