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  November Black And White Town
Year: 2017
Director: Rainer Sarnet
Stars: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Arvo Kukumägi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Heino Kalm, Meelis Rämmeld, Dieter Laser, Jette Loona Hermanis, Jaan Tooming, Klara Eighorn, Ene Pappel, Ernst Lillemets, Sepa Tom, Tiina Keeman, Heino Paljak, Mari Abel, Aire Koop
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The place is Estonia, and the time is some point in the past where the peasants wholeheartedly believed in the supernatural, because they could see its effects in everyday life. Take the kratt, which were ramshackle contraptions made of branches, bits of metal and often topped off with an animal skull: they will do the peasants' bidding, for they exist to work, but woe betide the owner who does not give them enough to do. Then there are the spectres, spirits of the dead who haunt the dense forest surroundings, Liina (Rea Lest) has seen her mother around, and regards her as significant, but like everyone else who sees the dead, she can't get any sense out of her...

Essentially a parade of weirdness based on the pages of Andrus Kivirähk's novel which had been a hit in Estonia, there was a story detectable, taking the form of a love triangle between Liina, the object of her affection Hans (Jörgen Liik), another peasant, and the daughter (supermodel Jette Loona Hermanis) of the local German Baron (Dieter Laser, best know to fans of science fiction cult series Lexx or as the mad scientist from The Human Centipede). As this was a fairy tale in the manner of a story collected by The Brothers Grimm, and none of your "and they all lived happily ever after" here either, this was serious stuff, there was an anything goes atmosphere throughout.

Not to say there were no jokes, as director and screenplay author Rainer Sarnet was keen to include a brand of black comedy that may be hilarious if you're Estonian but for everyone else was closer to bemusing. It did generate a number of chuckles, if not belly laughs, for the outsider, but the impression was that he was setting this lot up for a fall to punish them for their hubris, indolence and outright stupidity, and therefore the humour held an edge to it that was somewhat unpleasant, even punishing, and when you could not exactly say most of the characters did not deserve some kind of comeuppance in all truth, the effect was a curious one of making you complicit here.

The audience was not deciding on the peasants' fates, that was very much the hand of a God we never see and may not even exist, unless the director was a stand-in deity, but there was a moral air which regarded everyone as fair game for that aforementioned punishment, since nobody was entirely innocent. Even the priest at the church the villagers dutifully attend with no real grasp of the niceties of Christianity ends up harshly judged, and he was just doing his job as a holy man, seemingly his crime is believing he can do any good in the face of overwhelming superstition and rank idiocy. The locals are so tied to their folk beliefs that that are hamstrung by them, relying on magic that may not work on a good day, never mind the filth-strewn hours they while away as a matter of course.

Nevertheless, it was that magic that provided much of the encouragement to watch November, as the spine of the threads of the plot and subplots we were served up. Liina wants to become a werewolf, or simply a pure wolf, so undergoes arcane rituals which in a typical development do her no good, and certainly don't transform her. Hans yearns for his noblewoman and has his own rituals to follow, this time involving an immobile kratt (a snowman, basically) which spins him a swooningly romantic yarn that Hans is too unaware to twig has adopted the form of the sort of fairy tale that holds no happy ending, because that kind stays with you more resonantly - never mind that someone could die, as long as it's a good story. Interspersed with this are such asides as the villagers avoiding the plague by putting their trousers on their heads, or the eejit who believes the witch when she tells him feeding his beloved shit, sweat and armpit hair will make her fall in love with him. That was the level of the humour, and the whole thing: cruel, but undeniably imaginative, and all in stark monochrome. Music by Michal Jacaszek.

[Eureka's Blu-ray has a terrific print, with subtitles, and trailers and a booklet as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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