November is a quirky tale and a folk art masterpiece.
November is a fantasy folktale with supernatural and horror elements. It’s a very exceptional arthouse film that will speak to a particular audience that appreciates folklore shown in an absurdist way. It has a unique style and atmosphere and an authentic tone that is all about show don’t tell.
With many folklore elements like the devil, the plague personified, werewolves, a witch, All Hallows Eve, and the brilliant Kratts and much more, this film is about peasant life in the 19th century in Estonia preparing for the winter. Shot in black and white and with beautiful lighting and smart camera angels this film is a beauty and an arthouse gem that combines magic, superstition and folklore, with a fairytale-like vibe. It’s often dark, humorous, playful, absurdist, surreal, tragic and poetic all at the same time. It’s an allegory of harsh life and a bittersweet tale of tragic romance that intrigues and enchants.
In the 19th century Liina lives with her father a harsh life in a little village full of superstition. Winter is coming and the peasants prepare to make it through by using Kratts who work for them. On All Hallows Eve they welcome the dead who return to their families to eat and to use the sauna. Meanwhile Liina has a crush on Hans. But when the daughter of the German landlord the Baron returns, Hans falls for her.
While her father has to make a new deal with the devil to get a new soul to create a new Kratt and the village has to deal with the Plague, want to steal from the dead, while already stealing from the Baron, Liina conjures up a plan to make Hans fall in love with her, while Hans wants the young BaroneSs to fall in love with him.
Why you should watch it
November is a very exquisite fairytale of outstanding quirky beauty. It is shot very carefully with beautiful lighting that really adds to the fairytale vibe. The black and white causes sharp contrasts that enhances the style of the film. The atmosphere is very extraordinary for it is comical, absurdist and weird at the same time. It’s surreal and strange, it’s compelling and mesmerizing. The music is outstanding and the costumes are wonderfully made.
November manages to create something very special and unique while telling a very relatable story. But by adding the superstitious elements and the fantasy and folklore this film has its own unique voice. It doesn’t play out as a standard film with a standard way of storytelling, but as the big story arc about Liina and Hans unfolds, the different ordeals of village life and superstition are portrayed in a most fantastical way. It can therefore feel somewhat incoherent, but it really all falls smartly together and is just a typical winter that is shown to us. It’s not your usual story but quite an authentic one that strangely enough reels you in very quickly with its mesmerizing powers.
It handles different themes very subtly. While there is minimal conversation and dialogue, only at a need to know basis, the focus is completely on showing what is happening instead of telling. This also adds to an elusive vibe that makes it all the more fairytale-like. But it’s always very clear what is happening and why. It sometimes feels like a classical play, a feeling that is increased by the music.
The themes are about greed, and superstition while some steal from the dead, others from the Baron, some even from the Devil, while others hide their silver. Even if they fool the Devil to keep their souls, it sometimes feels like they already have lost their souls.
While peasant village life plays out in the background it’s all about the love triangle between Liina, Hans and the Baroness, who is ignorant of both Liina’s or Hans’ feelings. It’s therefore all the more tragic, and ironic that she becomes the victim of both Liina’s and Hans’ unrequited love. This romance is the core element to the story and ends in a tragic but poetic way.
My favorite part
The Kratts were absolutely brilliant. The way they were shaped, conjured up by the villagers, created from tools, animal skulls, or even a bike saddle or water, is so creative and imaginative. But there’s more. Kratts are made out of tools but also out of a soul to bring it to life, a soul that can be bought from the Devil. A Kratt always wants to work, and reminds his owner at an annoyingly regular basis and when Liina’s father is tired of it he gives it an impossible job so its head explodes quite literally. Although they treat the Kratts as slaves, the villagers have become lazy and some Kratts even have their owners some important lesson to teach. When Hans creates a Kratt out of snow it proves to be very wise and poetic, for snow is made out of water and water is old and has seen the world. It’s not a mere tool, but made of an element itself. It tells him poetic stories about love, and unrequited love and so a Kratt is more than just a living tool.
I had never heard of a Kratt before, but they are real entities in Estonian folklore and very imaginative and unlike I have ever seen. They are indeed an exceptional great addition to the story.
The ending was tragic and poetic and couldn’t have ended any other way. It’s a sad ending to an absurdist tale, but very fitting and it will leave you with a feeling of pure melancholia.
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
November is directed and written by Rainer Sarnet and based on the novel Rehepapp ehk November written by Andrus Kivirähk. It stars Rea Lest (Liina), Jörge Liik (Hans) and Jette Loona Hermanis (Baroness).
Duration: 115 minutes. Music by: Michael Jacaszek. Cinematography: Mart Taniel. Edited by: Jaroslaw Kaminski. Produced by: Katrin Kissa. Production company: Homeless Bob Production, Opus Film, PRPL. Distributed by: Cinemien, Donau-Film, Oscilloscope.