ON DVD & BLU-RAY
November (2017) dir: Rainer Sarnet Blu Ray & DVD (Eureka!)
Werewolf woman in love
This Estonian black-and-white fantasy is based on the bestselling novel Rehepapp ehk November by Andrus Kivirähk. It’s set in the country during medieval times when peasants faced the constant threat of the Black Death and (well, according to this story anyway) relied on making pacts with the Devil (Jaan Tooming) in order to invoke the help of strange magical beings called Kratts who are fashioned out of farm implements.
Rea Lest plays Liina, a young peasant woman who can transform into a wolf during the full moon. While she is in love with Hans (Jörgen Liik), he has set his sights on a local Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis) whom he catches sleepwalking in the night. To add to her problems, her father Rein (Arvo Kukumägi) has decided to give away her hand during a pact with a horrible old drinking buddy.
Watch a trailer:
A tale which emphasises extraordinary visuals over a coherent narrative
November is undoubtedly one of those films that you’ll either connect with on some entirely subliminal level or, alternatively, find that it leaves you feeling utterly befuddled. It’s heavily based around building a dreamlike, symbolism-heavy experience through imagery, sound and poetic language rather than creating any sort of cohesive narrative structure. Stylistically, it seems to have been inspired by the likes of Erik Blomberg’s The White Reindeer (1952) and Aleksey German’s Hard to Be a God (2013) while, at the same time, becomes very much its own beast.
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that November is an extraordinarily beautiful film to look at. Mart Taniel’s monochrome cinematography is exquisitely shot and lit, making effective use of soft focus and high contrast to imbue an effectively otherworldly atmosphere. The special effects used to bring the robotic Kratts to life may be more quaint than sophisticated (think Jan Švankmajer rather than Industrial Light & Magic) but they certainly have character and are, for the most part, seamlessly integrated into the main visual palette. Michal Jacaszek’s haunting ambient score complements the striking images perfectly.
Tonally, the film possesses an odd mixture of the spiritual and the absurdist. With a peculiar sense of irony, it at once chuckles at the baffling magical worldview of its central characters and simultaneously shares in their collective sense of neo-pagan wondrousness. In another ironic paradox, its narrative has a feminine drive despite the fact that it is set in a world where the men clearly hold most of the cards. While Liina is a plucky and determined young woman (as evinced by her werewolf-like double nature), she is ultimately powerless amid the choices and machinations of the males surrounding her, be they her father (who unthinkingly sets her up with an undesirable man), her heart’s desire (who has his sights set on another, immeasurably wealthier woman), or the Devil (who, of course, always comes to collect). Even the Baroness, while ostensibly in a position of privilege, suffers from a sleepwalking affliction which renders her, likewise, at the mercy of the necessity of male help to prevent her falling to her death.
November weaves quite a few fairytale tropes into its story: shapeshifters, magic spells cast by old crones, pacts with Satan and even a (literal) sleeping beauty. However, it’s not a typical modern-style “fairytale” of the kid-friendly Disney variety. For one thing, its content includes female nudity, implied rape, strong language also some particularly gross humour (you’ll probably wince while watching the shit-eating scene). It also comes very near to the spirit of the old versions of the Brothers Grimm tales. In other words: be prepared for dark life lessons rather than happy endings.
Unfortunately, there’s one major shortcoming here. It’s that the storyline seems to bite off more than it can chew in terms of secondary characters and subplots. By including too many elements, it intermittently loses sight of its strong and emotionally engaging central narrative thread (i.e. the tale of unrequited love) and ends up feeling more like a series of loosely-connected sketches than a well-rounded story. Nonetheless, the film’s distinctive style and mood make it well worth seeing, even if it frustratingly falls just fractionally short of the overall greatness which it strives for.
Runtime: 115 mins
Dir: Rainer Sarnet
Script: Rainer Sarnet, based on a novel by Andrus Kivirähk
Starring: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Arvo Kukumägi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Meelis Rämmeld, Dieter Laser, Jette Loona Hermanis
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Each and every image here is so stunning that they could be frozen and stuck on a gallery wall. The uncompressed LCPM 2.0 audio is clear and appropriately haunting.
The only extras supplied here are a trailer and a collector’s booklet with an essay by Australian film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. It’s a pretty decent effort which takes a look that the film’s origins in traditional Estonian folklore, its various stylistic influences and its place in the country’s overall body of cinematic work.
November isn’t for everyone and isn’t without its flaws but it’s still a rare experience. If you enjoy your fantasy dark and discomfiting then it’s definitely one to seek out.