Love in the Shadowland of Myth: Rainer Sarnet’s November

Reviewed by Alci Rengifo

Cinema has the capacity to become a conduit for dreams and nightmares, combining both into something the ancients could have scarcely imagined- the physical manifestation of myth. If critics such as Roland Barthes and Octavio Paz are correct, then the ritual of cinema or television has replaced the pagan rituals of old. Yet the primitive force of myth remains embedded in human expression, no matter if the medium has changed. Estonian filmmaker Rainer Sarnet’s new film, November, is pure myth, a fairy tale lifted from the page and given life by moving images, the reverie of cinematography and the atmosphere of music. It is imagined and produced with a vivid sense of time and place, yet creating an environment outside of time. And like all myths, its grand and magical flourishes are decorations for a story that is simple in its evocation of human feelings, desires and experiences.

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A Kratt, whose soul is conferred by the Devil himself

Sarnet bases his film on a novel by Andrus Kivirähk, Rehepapp, which has apparently not been published in English. It is set in the Estonian countryside in what we can guess is the 19th century, judging by the clothes of the colonizing German aristocrats. The local peasants live in shadowed woods dressed in medieval rags, functioning in a world where Christianity lives melded to ancient paganism. But the supernatural forces in this story are real. The peasant community of the film lives by stealing, and to achieve better results they use creatures known as kratts, which are assembled from various parts (in the opening scene a kratt composed of a horse head and sticks abducts a cow). But in order for the kratt to come to life it must be given a soul by the Devil himself, which means the peasants must bargain their souls. Amid this terrain a love story of tragic dimensions flowers. A local girl, Liina (Rea Lest) loves a local man, Hans (Jörgen Liik). Yet Hans’s affections are captivated by a local baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis). Both will seek to conjure dark forces to attain their desires, like two hearts passing as ships in the night into a terrible oblivion.

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Liina (Rea Lest), with aim to kill the sleepwalking Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis).

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