Rainer Sarnet’s Estonian mind-bender November is a pagan film poem about longing, where animism and dark magic are part of everyday life and peasants are sly enough to outwit the devil. Before the mid-19th century, Estonians called themselves “maarahvas,” or “people of the soil.” Through Sarnet’s lens, the Baltic Sea country’s tenebrous landscape hides the secrets of the ancients in its forests, bogs, and mires.
Shot in striking black-and-white by cinematographer Mart Taniel, November tells a story of unrequited love and the harshness of living. With greed comes damnation, or in the case of this strange brew, werewolves in disguise, wandering ghosts, and plague goats. Audiences will surely compare the movie to its aesthetic brethren: the humorous grotesqueries of Jan Švankmajer, the gothic fantasies in Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Tarkovsky’s mobius strip of the personal, poetic, and political, and so on. November engages these impressionistic influences, woven with Estonian folktales, and based on Andrus Kivirähk’s cult novel Rehepapp, but its a remarkable beauty all its own.
November from Oscilloscope Laboratories — winner of Best Cinematography at Tribeca 2017, and Estonia’s official submission to the 2018 Academy Awards — arrives in New York City theaters today and expands to Los Angeles on March 2.
In this tale of love and survival in 19th century Estonia, peasant girl Liina longs for village boy Hans, but Hans is inexplicably infatuated by the visiting German baroness that possesses all that he longs for. For Liina, winning Hans’ requited love proves incredibly complicated in this dark, harsh landscape where spirits, werewolves, plagues, and the devil himself converge, where thievery is rampant, and where souls are highly regarded, but come quite cheap. With alluring black and white cinematography, Rainer Sarnet vividly captures these motley lives as they toil to exist—is existence worth anything if it lacks a soul?