November (2017)

November first published by SciFiNow

If, after The Witch (2014), a rural period film features backward values, supernatural motifs and goats, it comes with the expectation of a certain dark grimness – but you can leave your preconceptions at the barn door while watching Rainer Sarnet’s November, based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp ehk November (2000). For in this bawdy, funny, endlessly eccentric portrait of a nineteenth century village’s insular mores, the impossible and the irrational are vibrantly realised – and though shot in monochrome, it is lit like a Dreyer film, with many of its images saturated in intense, overwhelming whites. 

Here superstitions (and the dead) come alive, here paganism and Christianity make odd bedfellows, and here Satan himself walks freely, yet November begins on All Souls’ Day – the day after Halloween – marking its difference from your typical horror. There may be an episodic structure brimming with gothic detail – devilish automata (called kratts), werewolves, ghosts, vampires, necromancy, somnambulism, witchcraft – but its principal narrative is a romance of sorts, focused on a bizarre love triangle.  

Nubile Liina (Rea Lest) has been promised by her father to a boorish pigfarmer, but loves local boy Hans (Jürgen Liik), even though Hans has eyes only for the elegant daughter (Jette Loona Hermanis) of the recently widowed German baron (Dieter Laser, The Human Centipede). Both Liina and Hans will resort to magic to achieve their different erotic ends, but in a place where everyone is a thief, hearts are not so easily stolen.  

“I am an Estonian,” declares one larcenous local, as he steals pairs of luxury briefs. “Thus the baron’s underpants belong to me.” In November, nothing – not the Church, nor even Estonian nationalism – is sacred, as everything is reduced to the absurdly mundane. November finds (sur)real beauty in all its mud, shit and grotesque characters, while grounding its madder ideas in a concrete earthiness. The results are like Hard to Be a God (2013) with sight gags – not just rich and strange, but also oddly sublime.

Strap: Love, death and the devil in a folkloric Estonia of the absurd. 

© Anton Bitel