What makes Rainer Sarnet’s November such an interesting film is that it feels both completely familiar and wildly unique at the exact same time. An atmospheric, often surrealistic folktale set in 19th Century Estonia, the film finds a young woman named Liina (Rea Lest) going to great lengths in order to win over her crush, Hans (Jörgen Liik), who is hopelessly in love with the daughter of the local Baron.
At first glance, that sounds like a classic piece of European literature. But things get much, much stranger from there. The small village that Liina and Hans occupy is an odd place where the locals frequently play dead in order to trick a supernatural shape-shifter known as the plague that comes to kill one of their residents on a regular basis, make deals with Satan himself, transform into animals, and transplant human souls into kratts — workhorse-like devices made of scrap metal and animal bones. To say that November isn’t your typical folktale is a massive understatement.
But not only is its concept fascinating, Sarnet’s brilliant execution is something to behold. Utilizing gorgeous black-and-white cinematography from director of photography Mart Taniel as well as a consistently ethereal tone, the world of November is both beautiful and dangerous. But as soon as you relax and start appreciating the charming environments, more nightmarish creatures arrive to remind you of just how terrifying this universe truly is.
Balancing imagery with substantial narrative is a difficult task, but Sarnet does a superb job of doing just that. Nearly every single scene of November is filled with incredible, often biblical symbolism, but there’s a traditional love story here as well. Liina is a flawed, likable protagonist and her pitiful desire to charm the absolutely clueless Hans is genuinely sweet. The way her attempts at achieving true love are incorporated into Satan’s arrival to her farming community is very intriguing, if not a bit out there.
That inherent weirdness is one of the strengths of the film, but it honestly works on every single level. No matter what you specifically look for in a cinematic experience, November delivers. Though it’s certainly quite far off the beaten path of what mainstream audiences generally enjoy, there’s both technical brilliance and accessible creepiness on display. It may not be for everyone, but there’s so much to enjoy about this film. It’s one of the year’s finest pictures.
November recently screened at the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival. Oscilloscope Laboratories will release the film in theaters later this year.