Rainer Sarnet's dreamlike, black & white Estonian fairy tale November follows its own logic and pacing. It certainly has the ability to cast a spell of viewers, not in part because of the stunning cinematography. However, there is a sense that the film would make a deeper impact with some working knowledge of both Estonian history and of Andrus Kivirähk's novel The Old Barney from which November is adapted from. Without that, the film is a bit of a disjointed affair full of wondrous and nightmarish images.
November revolves largely around a love triangle set in a small village. Rea Lest plays Liina, a werewolf of sorts, who is madly in love with peasant Hans (Jörgen Liik) who in turn is in love with the Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis). Pagan rituals, a shapeshifting plague and the devil himself all turn up as the lovers vie for one another.
Sarnet draws from a wide range of influences from Carl Dreyer and Benjamin Christensen to Monty Python and Jan Svankmajer. The visual aesthetic may show clear influences but it is truly its own unique and marvelous concoction. Every frame seems to have been toiled over in order to maintain the film's unique feel. Cinematographer Mart Taniel begins with surreal images of snow-covered landscapes and ends with crazed POV shots and high-contrast grittiness.
November contains many sights to behold but one of the most memorable are the supernatural slaves known as "kratts" that the villagers sell their souls to get. The kratts are made up of anything from farm tools to wood to snow at one point. They feel like something that David Lynch or Terry Gilliam would have dreamed up, somehow capable of being eerie and hilarious at the same time. The film opens with a surreal scene of one of these kratts stealing livestock from a neighboring farm.
What all of this means is a bit more difficult to suss out after just one viewing but the films second half shifts to a more emotionally resonant story as the love triangle becomes the central focus. While I may still not be sure how much adds up in November, I was constantly within its trance. It definitely announces a strong talent in Sarnet and is something you should give your time and money too. I know I won't be forgetting the experience anytime soon.