Director: Rainer Sarnet
Based on Rehepapp ehk by Andrus Kivirähk
Starring: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Arvo Kukumägi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Dieter Laser, Jette Loona Hermanis. Estonia. 1h 55m
I’d like to think that I don’t award too many 10/10’s although I am always searching for perfect films and I believe I have just found another one, possibly the one. There’s so much to fall in love with in Sarnet’s November, based on a deeply chrasamisc novel Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk who’s possibly one of the most influential folk writers since Estonia’s classical epic Kalevipoeg and is just as extraordinary.
The film starts out curiously, a cow skull mounted on farming tools is captured rolling and creaking across the landscape using a chain it steals a cow, by grabbing the beast and flying into the air like a folklore chopper, the mechanism lands with the cow, on a farm miles away across the forest, the owner coming out to retrieve the animal and kicks the machine away, but it talks to him, asking for more work so he gives it an impossible task and it explodes. This “thing” is a Kratt and you’ll see a lot of these throughout the movie, and you can see the Kratts screen test here (https://vimeo.com/66493993)
The villagers find it hard to survive throughout the dark Estonian winters and often end up stealing from each other and the German nobility who are taking over their lands. In order to make a Kratt the villagers first have to go into the forest and make a pact with the devil written in blood in His book.
Drawing on so much folklore the film is alive creatures, and the people who seem to like to steal, take from the devil and christ without any second thoughts, but there’s much more going on in this 19th Century village, with guest appearances from the Black Death, a wandering woman who’s gentle kiss and touch is deadly, on all souls night the dead come back dressed in beautiful white clothes are join their kin for food or are berated for their behavior.
In all of this fanciful charm a young girl, Liina (Lest) falls deeply in love with a local boy, Hans (Liik) but he’s more interested in daughter of a German aristocrat, a nameless Baroness played by the stunning Hermanis. Meanwhile Liina has been “sold” by her father to a disgusting old man who she wants nothing to do with. Both Liina and Hans begin to use the dark arts to get what they want, Liinas lust transformes her into a wolf and after seeking advice from an elder she’s instructed to kill the baroness, while Hans eventually makes his own Kratt but one quite different from the others which leads to some smouldering poetry and ideas of bringing the baroness to him.
Meanwhile the village continues on stealing, conjuring and making the most of their anti fairytale lives in the woods, tragic and at the same time hilariously sly in the sense of dark humor, the old folk don’t believe in love but hand out good advice and bum receipes to those who they don’t like, one old lady drunkenly orchestrates a crazy rape..
At times I felt overwhelmed by the movie, the raw deep emotions are prevalent throughout but it’s dropped for something dark and scary or a joke or two, allowing me to catch a breath. A lot of people were confused about the story, and while it’s sometimes open to interpretation and a touch of folk lore knowledge is required, it’s easy to sit back and be enchanted from the imagery alone, much like the artwork it mimics, from Brueghel and similar Flemish Renaissance painters. The devil might be in the woods but he’s also in the detail.
Beautifully filmed in black and white the movie has a soft and sensual nature to the cinematography, with some very unique visuals and an expressive soundtrack, dare i say on par with Bela Tarr, an artistic adventure with more sly salationess but equally moving.