If you’re not well-versed in Estonian folklore and mythology, you might not know what a ‘kratt’ is: a magical creature made from household objects or hay, created as a servant or slave by its owner, and brought to life by the devil in exchange for three drops of blood… or something more long-lasting. The kratt has to work constantly, and may turn on its owner if not continually given tasks to complete. It can be destroyed by its owner setting it an impossible task, which causes it to explode. Now that you’re in possession of this kratt-based information, the opening scenes of November will make much more sense than if you’d merely gone in blind.
November is a strange one. A disturbing Estonian fantasy that veers between the beautiful, the comic, and the grotesque, it is certainly visually stimulating, if also somewhat overly long and a little meandering in its storytelling.
Set in a poor farming community during a harsh medieval winter, November is a tale of unrequited love, deals with the devil, superstition and magic. This is a place where the dead return to converse with the living, people become animals, and Communion wafers are exchanged as just another form of magical currency. The poor and the dirty hoard what little they have, tempted into exchanging it not to fill their empty stomachs but to fulfil their hearts’ desires.
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Young peasant girl Liina (Rea Lest) is in love with village boy Hans (Jörgen Liik), but he is infatuated with a beautiful young baroness; someone who is impossibly far out of his social league. Both seek ways of getting what they want, but outcomes don’t always arrive as intended. This, it turns out, is the crux of the story, but it is not immediately obvious since the film takes more than an hour to establish that this is where it is heading. On the way, the viewer is treated to vignettes of various rustic folklore and tradition, that whilst relevant and entertaining, feel rather more scattered than the building blocks to the eventual main plot that they should be.
Shot in black and white, the cinematography on November is impressive, creating scenes and images that are alternately eerie and haunting, stark and grotesque, and beautiful. It is a dark fairytale, and manages to convey a sense of strangeness and the unreality of a dream that you might expect from the likes of Jan Švankmajer or the Brothers Grimm.
A bizarre and overall enjoyable tale, director Rainer Sarnet‘s November makes for an intriguing watch on a chill evening or rainy afternoon.
November is available now on dual format Blu-ray & DVD.