February 22, 2018 November (Movie Review)
Life is complicated. In order to live one must survive. Survival is a skill passed down generations though superstitions, religion, and folklore. How it is achieved is dependent on what has been taught and the souls that accept it. Adapted from Andrus Kivirahk’s 2000 novel, Rehepapp ehk November, Director Rainer Sarnet (Where Souls Go 2007, The Idiot 2011) presents his Black Metal-inspired Medieval Fantasy film November. Attaining early praise, November will open on Friday, February 23, 2018 in New York City via Oscilloscope Laboratories. So what is everyone raving about?
The setting is a poor Estonian village. It begins on the eve of All Souls Day, which is November 1st. The dead are about to rise and return home to feast and check on their valuables. Valuables that have been stolen throughout lifetimes. Even in death, stealing is an obsession for those who belong to this village. They are served meat and treated like royalty. Those still alive survive on bark and little else. Liina (Rea Lest: Mother 2016, Mehetapja/Suutu/Vari 2017) is a young, beautiful girl. Her mother is one of the dead that rises. She looks for motherly comfort but does not find any. Liina is in love with one of the young men from the village, Hans (Jörgen Liik: The Last Romeo 2013, The Polar Boy 2016). Liina is trying to survive in a life that does not seem to have any room for someone who still remains pure and mostly innocent.
The villagers are poor, yet they bury and hide all of their valuables beneath the floorboards of their homes. They all cheat and steal from each other; rich or poor/Devil or nature; to survive. One of the ways that this is accomplished is through the use of Kratt. Kratt are creatures formed from old household tools. The Kratt are important for survival. They obey their master’s commands and have to constantly work. Without work, they will go insane and attack their master. A deal with the Devil (Jaan Tooming: Värvilised unenäod 1975, Karikakramäng 1977) is struck to give them souls. The Devil wants three drops of blood from the Kratt’s master, but the villagers cheat him and use blackcurrant berries instead. Using blood effectively sells their soul in order to create these beings. Tricking the Devil with the currants preserves their souls for the future.
The Baron (Dieter Laser: Baltic Storm 2003, The Human Centipede 2009) has returned to the manor. With him he brings his daughter, the Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis). Much to the distress of Liina, Hans falls out of love with her and in love with the Baroness upon first sight. She tries in vain to get his attentions back to her, but Hans no longer sees anyone else. Everything Hans does from that point on is to impress and get the Baroness to love him. Liina turns to the village Witch (Klara Eighorn: debut) for help. Her life and any hope that she might have once had is falling apart. As she silently fights for her love, her father is trying to force her to marry a much older and less desirable man in the village. Chaos surrounds her and everyone else.
Life continues around the clueless young lovers. Everyone has their own struggles and agendas. The plague arrives in the village in the form of a white goat. The villagers must find a way to cheat death and continue to stay alive. The Baron must try and keep the Baroness safe because she suffers from some unnamed illness that puts her in danger. The Devil is still present and looming in the shadows ready to pounce. Souls are promised and tarnished at every turn.
What will happen to Liina? Will she be able to find a way to get Hans back, or has she lost him forever? Can the Baron keep his daughter safe? Who will lose their soul next? Will this winter be the one to finally destroy the village?
True unrequited love often drives people to do things that is not usually within their nature. The majority of the villagers do not see Love as even an issue. It is not food or gold or anything else material so it does not matter to survival. The film brings up the question on why Love even matters. It cannot sustain a person, but it can destroy them. The theme of Love does run rampant throughout the film. It is not always about physical or spiritual love, though. Love takes the form of greed. The love of money and possessions is important to these people. They have almost nothing so possessions and gold become their soul mates. Even though souls are on the line constantly, self preservation is something that is important to the villagers. Without some form of Love, life would no longer exist.
There are religious undertones throughout the film, even if God does not appear to exist within the village. They all go to the Catholic Church and attend mass, but outside of it the Devil and other supernatural entities roam freely. When the villagers are in need of assistance, is not God that is called upon, but the Devil himself. The crucifix in the church bleeds as innocence is lost. Does that mean God does exist here and just has not shown Himself because the villagers have turned their backs to Him? They are pagans, yet they do what is necessary to try and preserve their souls for the afterlife. Why do this if making deals with the Devil is so commonplace that no one bats an eye? It is an interesting paradox. How can the Devil exist if God does not? Are the two not part of the same thing? How can the dead rise if souls are freely exchanged for Kratts and other things needed to survive.
November is shot in black and white. The lack of color makes the distinction between those at the manor with money and the poor villagers even more apparent. The Baron and Baroness are white and clean. Their home, belongings, and clothing stand out in every scene they are in. There is no mistaking their status. They are a stark contrast between the grays and blacks that surround the villagers. It can be jarring at times, but it is exquisitely beautiful. It also allows for the emotions of the actors to be even more powerful in a way that color could not have. Attention stays focused on the characters rather than the wintery scenery behind them.
November is a brilliant mix of paradoxes. Religion and witchcraft. Rich and poor. Natural and unnatural. It is also a tale of souls. What happens when survival means no longer possessing one? Throw in young pure unrequited love and longing and the tale grows even more complicated. November is a film that has a little bit of everything.
There are so many different plots that come alive on screen that there is never the risk of the audience to lose interest. It is bizarre, but beautiful and riveting. One viewing will absolutely not be enough to truly appreciate the complexity of the film. It is for all these reasons and many more that CrypticRock gives November 5 out of 5 stars.