In the fields beyond the village a kratt goes about its business, a spinning tripedal totem of bone, branch and blade in search of its quarry, tied to its master by a pact sealed with three drops of blood which he gave to the devil himself in return for the soul which animates the kratt to do his bidding.
Everything is frozen, desolate, of this Earth but unearthly as the villagers prepare for All Souls Day when the white-clad figures of the dead drift through the trees and fog after sunset, the villagers dressed in black watching but not interacting with the lost members of their families, while at the crossroads in the forest, the devil waits for his payment…
Based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp ehk November (Old Barny aka November), published in 2000, writer/director Rainer Sarnet’s November was Estonia’s offering for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards but was not nominated, possibly because its dreamlike mix of folklore, horror and comedy was impenetrable to those unfamiliar with the obscure sources.
Now available on Eureka’s world cinema label Montage, it is clear that November is an atmospheric and hypnotic journey through the hidden myths of another culture rarely explored in mainstream cinema, but equally that it does not translate, at best impressionistic yet always engagingly bizarre.
What can be ascertained is the human story which underpins the surrounding oddities, the story of young lovers Hans and Liina (Jörgen Liik and Rea Lest), preparing for their wedding until Hans is enraptured by the arrival of the Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis), a refined vision of perfection amongst the rough peasants.
Determined to have her, Hans goes to the forest to make a deal with the devil, using witchcraft to win the Baroness, while Liina invokes the power of nature and the spirit of the animals to return Hans to her side, competing forces at odds with each other which cannot be denied.
Often a series of seemingly disconnected events, there is an impression of something larger going on beneath the surface but it is trapped frozen within the long forgotten winters of 19th century Estonia, the pale sunlight never enough to thaw it sufficiently to make its meaning clear.
What is conveyed is that November is a beautiful film which fully deserved its numerous festival awards for cinematography, often poetic such as when it describes memories of water so richly that it may be wisest to simply jump in and go with the flowing current wherever it may lead.