I originally saw Rainer Sarnet’s NOVEMBER appropriately enough last November at the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival. Unfortunately with everything going on and my needing to get this site up in quick order it was one of several films I didn’t get written up. So when I was offered a screener ahead of its review by Oscilloscope I was happy to give it another viewing.
On its face, NOVEMBER looks to be a fairly standard love triangle. In a 19th century Estonian, in a small rural community Liina (Rea Lest) loves Hans (Jörgen Liik) who has eyes only for the Baron’s daughter (Jette Loona Hermanis) despite her and her father’s (Dieter Laser THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE) disdain for the villagers. Liina’s father has promised her to another farmer, despite the objections of her mother’s ghost. Yes, her mother’s ghost. Once you scratch the surface life in this village is anything but ordinary.
The villagers create Kratts out of bone and scrap metal and animate them via magic to do menial labor. They make deals with the Devil (Jaan Tooming), play dead to trick The Plague (Maria Aua) into passing over their town and there’s a werewolf roaming the woods. Pagan and Christian beliefs walk hand in hand here with frequently bizarre results. This is a film that will have you think “What the fuck was that?” rather frequently.
Based on a novel by Andrus Kivirähk NOVEMBER is a fairy tale in the original Brothers Grimm sense of the term. Playing with magic can have serious consequences and happy endings aren’t guaranteed. Everyone attends church but they also steal and cheat each other at every turn and rely on magic black and white. It’s all about trying to better their meager existence even a little, no matter what the cost.
Shot in beautiful black and white NOVEMBER sometimes resembles an older Mario Bava film with its sinister night scenes and stark, haunting day shots. However, even that can’t keep the film from dragging at 115 minutes. Maybe it plays better for those familiar with the novel or the folklore it’s based on but I found it slow going at times and occasionally hard to figure out. Even on second viewing parts of it eluded me.
NOVEMBER is a film that will delight some and bore others with it’s slow, deliberate pace and a more realistic depiction of magic than most films. It’s certainly one worth taking a chance on if you even think it might appeal to you.
Oscilloscope will open NOVEMBER in New York City on February 23rd and Los Angeles March 2nd.