November (2017)

Estonia
Director & Writer: Rainer Sarnet
Available on Shudder.

A kratt gets to work.

We open on an animated assortment of farm equipment on a mission. The creation is a kratt, a mythological creature created by trading one’s soul to the devil. It’s a short sighted deal: while kratt’s can increase a peasant’s immediate station, long term they must continue to be given tasks or the devil will come for his due. November is largely about the immediacy of its denizen’s needs. The peasants work, they pray, and still they receive nothing that they want or need and are subjugated by the wealthy and uncaring landowner whose daughter walks the manor roof while sleeping.

If it had not been shot in silvertone-esque black and white, this film would be gritty, dirty, better fitted to Werner Herzog’s earthly damnation stories. Taking a note from Béla Tarr, it instead imprints its subjects in a fairy tale land where no one has to quite live within the brutal physical realities of their station. We can see this kind of elevated exploration of peasant folklore and life in many films in recent history: Robert Eggers’ The VVitch comes to mind, as well as the richly imagined, but frustratingly sloppy Hagazussa by Lukas Feigelfeld as well.

November is a stunning film, but viewers be warned there is a completely nonsensical and violent rape scene near the end that may just turn you off from the rest of the movie. The film overall offers many tantalizing elements: A bout of dangerous somnambulism, a doomed love story, automatons made from dark magic, and a girl-werewolf. It would have been a pleasingly expressionistic portrait were we not so jarringly ripped out of the loosely related narratives.

Sexual assault happens twice in the film, and it’s worth talking about: overall, the film is a beautifully captured, if hodgepodge group of narratives about a folktale-ridden town, but the violent sexual assaults take away immensely from the overall feel of the film and break its magic before the picturesque but tragic ending.

It seems like the theme of the movie, like so much folklore, is longing for that which cannot be granted, but it fumbles and loses all subtlety in its desire to twist us toward seeing the point.

After this, watch: Alice (1988), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Turin Horse (2011)

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