Film review: Sarnet's 'November' grubby but sublime ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

A scene from
A scene from "November." Source: (

Rainer Sarnet’s new film 'November' is a classical  story about tragic love that is never consummated set against the backdrop of a muddy and moth-eaten mytho-Estonian world, Lea Soorsk writes.

The glittering surface of the water on the screen seems like a promise — we have reached a mirror world, where the mythological is common. The dead walk with the living, human-sized chickens whisk themselves in the sauna and, walking in the manor park at night, one might run into a goblin made of iron rods, carrying a bottle of vodka and shouting "Hello!"

Kivirähk’s "Old Barny" reaches the silver screen in black and white, lit by bright projector lamps, resulting in a high contrast which makes the viewer feel as though they are sitting in the front row in a theater, getting a very close look at how grimaces alter the rough-hewn wrinkles of the actors. The most plastic performance is delivered by the face of the Devil, buried under a coat of powder and a thick mustache, challenged by his doublet-clad body jumping around at the crossroads on a Waning Thursday. Viewers’ senses will be haunted by the film’s dirty faces and witless smiles, many of which do not belong to professional actors but rather were found in response to a casting call in the local newspaper: "We are seeking people who look like they come from the photos of Johannes Pääsuke."

The peasants’ behaviour is governed by laziness, greed and bile. Stupidity manifests itself as stubborn superstition. Their own view, of course, is that it is cleverness with which to deceive the priest and the landlord. The baron follows the sinful with a pained look, but likely accepts then that these people will never be proper Christians as he begins to make pointless jokes and resigns himself to playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano. At the same time, the valet with a bowl haircut takes the totally infatuated Hans to the bedroom of the baron’s sleepwalking daughter. The baroness, straying onto the roof of the manor house in her sleep, and her bewitched lover are seen from the manor park by the heartbroken Werewolf Liina (Rea Lest), the depth of whose feelings convincingly portrays the conflict between a pure heart and the degenerate world.

If some of the more magical scenes remind one of the camerawork and montage jumps from "Bumpy," by the time Dogme is reached, evil is no longer reflected mythologically. Despite the black humor accompanying the action — or rather, with its support — the gloominess of the observable world and its inhabitants becomes ever more oppressive. This anguish is not period-specific depressiveness arising from estrangement which can often be encountered in Estonian and Nordic films; this anguish manifests itself in a somewhat more authentic way. I would like to say that, as a mouthful, it is something more than world soup while remaining unmistakably local at the same time.

The few characters whose souls have — temporarily? — been cleansed by love, sitting in a pool of water under apple trees and snowflakes through the night, feel like a breath of spring in this November. The snow and white color seem to repeat as signs of a soul. After outsmarting the plague, the snowfall seems to clean the people of dirt and bring relief. But relief does not tend to last long in this world.

Similarly to "Idiot," Rainer Sarnet manages to portray the beauty in the squalid, eternally poor world in “November” with painful precision. If you forgive the clumsy start, where the bullying of a calf is not justified by the content or anything else, one must admit that "November" is a style-bold film which pokes at national pride, risen over the edge of the bowl, in the right place to keep it from getting too full of itself — just as the novel "Old Barny" did.


This film review originally appeared in the Culture critics' blog at

"November," which is based on Andrus Kivirähk's novel "Old Barny" ("Rehepapp ehk november"), was recently chosen as one of ten films to compete in the World Narrative Competition in New York's Tribeca Film Festival in late April.


Editor: Aili Vahtla

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