NOVEMBER, an adaptation of the Estonian novel “Rehepapp”, is the latest film from director Rainer Sarnet. Finding the words to best describe this film is damn near impossible as I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I have watched. The film seems to be a story of witchcraft and pagan traditions/rituals surrounded by moments of love, loss, and death along with encounters with the Devil and spirits, all set in the background of an Estonian village. The film stars Rea Lest (Mother), Jörgen Liik (The Polar Boy), Dieter Laser (The Human Centipede), Taavi Eelmaa (The Days that Confused), and Katariina Unt (Somnambulance).
As I’m sure you can tell from my initial thoughts, NOVEMBER is a very difficult film to explain. The story really focuses on Liina (Lest), a peasant girl, who has an obsession with Hans (Liik), who she desires to have love her, even though he has his sights set on the baron’s daughter. As the viewer watches Liina’s story unfold, the traditions that are ingrained in this Estonian village start to come to life, and the consequences of dabbling with dark magic and conversing with the Devil result in a devastating chain of events.
Off the bat, one of my favorite things about this film was the introduction of the Kratt. A Kratt is a “magical creature in old Estonian mythology, a treasure-bearer…a creature formed from hay or of old household implements by its master, who then had to give the devil three drops of blood for the devil to bring life to the Kratt” (Wikipedia). The first scene of NOVEMBER introduces the audience to a Kratt and it’s truly breathtaking in a grotesque yet beautiful way. Honestly, I would have loved to have seen a film that just focused on the origins of the Kratt and the lengths people would go to achieve one. Whoever came up with the design of these for this film did a phenomenal job and it was hands down the best part of the movie for me.
In regards to the acting, I thought that everyone involved was able to hold their own. This film is such an eccentric piece of art that I applaud the actors for really showcasing their talent while also being able to push the narrative along. There are moments where the story becomes a bit confusing, but I felt like the acting and the body language really helped in making the story easier to understand and follow. The film is not in English, but in Estonian and German, so you do have to make sure you are paying attention to the subtitles so as to not get to overly confused or completely lost.
When it comes to the look of the film, cinematographer Mart Taniel hit a homerun as the movie, which is in black and white, is visually stunning. By having the film be shot in black and white it helped in achieving an overall feeling of dismay and dread. The shadow effects, which were brought on from the camera work, also helped in accomplishing another layer of apprehension. Having the film be set during the winter months also gave it a more chilling tone which resulted in very little warmth or comfort. All in all, the art department really did a spectacular job of setting the tone and mood for this film.
Overall, NOVEMBER is a unique viewing experience that intertwines Estonian lore and rituals with a visually striking backdrop. I still can’t say for certain if I liked this film or not, but I wouldn’t categorize that as a bad thing. It’s a film unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, or in years past, and it has stayed with me since my first viewing a few weeks back. If you are into art-house films and/or are intrigued with folklore and traditions, then I highly suggest checking out NOVEMBER during its festival circuit.
NOVEMBER had it’s Canadian Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 23rd.