tue 18/02/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: November | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: November

DVD/Blu-ray: November

Dark Estonian fairy tale, visually delightful but short on scares

We will all go together when we go... Selected cast from Rainer Sarnet’s 'November'

Life in rural 19th century Estonia looks hard. The ice and the squalor are tough enough, but then you’ve the kratts to contend with. We see one in the eye-popping opening sequence of Rainer Sarnet’s 2017 epic November, an unsettling creature cobbled from bits of wood, random tools and an animal skull. Resembling something thrown together by the Brothers Quay, this one’s on a mission, capturing a terrified cow and taking flight like a steampunk drone. In Estonian folklore, kratts can be given life if you offer three drops of blood to the Devil; the snag being that he now owns your soul.

This is a place where the corporeal and incorporeal coexist without incident. Ghosts munch rye bread and chat with their relatives, and the plague-bearing figure of Death can pay villagers a surprise visit in the shape of a goat or pig. Supernatural elements aside, the monochrome world shown in November is disarmingly real. Most of the snaggle-toothed supporting cast are amateurs, many looking as if they’ve stepped out of a Brueghel painting (the film’s aesthetic often recalls Terry Gilliam’s similarly grimy Jabberwocky). Sarnet’s incidental details are brilliantly conceived but tend to overwhelm the slender plot: Rea Lest’s young Liina is set to marry Hans (Jörgen Liik), before he becomes besotted with a young countess staying with her father in the large house which overlooks the village. Both Liina and Hans seek magical help to resolve their respective problems. It doesn't end well

November posterThe incidental delights are many. Sour-faced servants steal from their wealthy masters. A nameless Baron plays Beethoven sonatas while his daughter sleeps. We learn more about the kratts, who can only be destroyed if given impossible tasks: the one we meet at the start bursts into flames when told to make a ladder out of bread. Hans himself gets the Devil’s help to bring life to his own kratt, a melancholy snowman who can’t do much heavy lifting but regales him with poetry before melting.

Mart Taniel’s cinematography is remarkable, its chilly vistas achieved through ingenious manipulation of infra-red video footage. The score, by Polish "sound artist" Michał Jacaszek, is exquisite. What I missed was real terror: Erik Blomberg’s low-budget Lapland folk-horror The White Reindeer (recently reissued on the same label) shares many of November’s plot elements and is more likely to prompt nightmares.

Sound and image are impressive. Disappointingly, no extras are provided – I’d have loved to have seen how the haunting final scenes were realised – though the handsome booklet contains a useful essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Estonian horror buffs shouldn't hesitate.

Death pays the villagers a surprise visit in the shape of a goat


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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