Rainer Sarnet’s November gels a number of Eastern European folk tales into a somber and wretchedly visualized telling. Gone is any hint of wistfulness or Walt Disney-esque facade. It’s nightmarish … it’s loopy … it revels in the same mud, muck and filth its poor peasants inhabit every day. It’s also establishes a very ‘cultish’ presence right from the start.
How much one appreciates November will probably rely on one’s fascination with art house efforts like those of Hungarian Bela Tarr or the schizoid films of Polish master Andrzej Zulawski. I suppose that’s a gentle way to surmise its not a film everyone will like. But those who dig it, will really really flow on its wavelength.
Opening in a flurry of what-the-hell-did-I-just-see images, November follows some sort of possessed contraption of rusty metal with a scythe hand as it walks, attacks a cow, and then proceeds to fly the cow back home to his master. Apparently, these contraptions are deals made with the devil (appropriately found at a crossroads deep in the snowy woods), who gives them life and obedience but asks for the soul of its farmer/master in return. This is a population of extreme poverty dealing with plagues, barren crops and harsh endless winters so, in that regard, the deal for a mechanical-whatsit-Renfield is a pretty balanced trade off.
Outside of all the elders’ weird customs and supernatural leanings, the younger generation don’t fare much better. Attractive Liina (Rea Lest) is in love with Hans (Jorgen Liik), whose days are spent pining solemnly for a posh, mansion-dwelling baroness (Jette Hermains). Add to the fact that Liina is a werewolf and Hans begs all types of potions for the Baroness to fall in love with him, and November becomes a collision of ideas and images. It’s as if director Sarnet never met a folk tale he didn’t like and mainlined every single one into his boisterous and busy film. Yes, it creates an unexpected and consistently shifting experience where one scene smash cuts into a hand shoving dirt into someone’s face or a wolf scurrying through a snowy field like a playful dog, but its overall impact is lessened by the sheer volume of tangents it chases.
One of the more intriguing fairy-tale tentacles of November involves a nightly (maybe?) ritual where the dead return to their families and are paraded back home with a feast of bread since “they don’t get to eat much in death.” The ghostly, perfectly executed succession of images throughout this portion burrow deep under the skin. It’s one of those folk tales that harbors the fear within the child in all of us that the dead are watching us and quietly judging our actions.
However, this portion is but a footnote in Sarnet’s larger picture of madness and backwards witchcraft. Blink and it’s onto the next tale. Like the people who are forced to wear pants on their heads when a goat (i.e. the embodiment of the plague) hits their town, it’s best to just give into November’s demented logic and enjoy the ride.
November opened in New York on February 23 and opens in Los Angeles and all VOD platforms on Friday, March 2. Future dates around the country will be forthcoming.