GORE IN THE STORE

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NOVEMBER  ****

Directed by Rainer Sarnet. Starring Rea Lest, Jorgen Liik, Arvo Kukumagi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Dieter Laser. Estonia / Poland / Netherlands 2017 Certificate : 15 115 minutes

Released by Eureka Entertainment in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition on 13th May 2019.

 

Adapted from the seemingly unfilmable novel “Rehepapp” by Andrus Kivirahk, NOVEMBER - as shot in extraordinarily atmospheric black and white by Mart Taniel - at times looks and feels like an original, unerringly creepy folk horror picture. Its backdrop of Christianity vs Paganism, the score by Jacaszek and the disquieting framing (low, oppressive ceilings abound) would certainly point that way, As would the presence of Dieter Laser as a visiting Baron and the importance to the narrative of werewolves, the Devil and a talking snowman.

 

But the film also makes spellbinding use of classical pieces from Johann Strauss and Beethoven. It has a climactic underwater sequence that is almost swoon-inducingly romantic. The visuals and themes may echo everything from David Lynch to Bergman to Carl Dreyer, but it’s shot through with a playful sense of absurdism and takes relish in its own macabre sense of gallows humour. Depending on when you left the room for a quick loo break and forgot to pause, you have every chance of flitting randomly from a scene containing a comical, obligatory underpants inspection to a truly sinister All Souls’ Day set piece. It’s alternatively beautiful, hilarious and truly disturbing…but never less than compelling.

 

The tone is set with an astonishing opening sequence of a “Kratt” dragging an unfortunate cow out of her shed through the air, transporting to another part of the plague-ridden Estonian Pagan village in which the film unfolds. Kratts are supernatural, man-made servants typically consisting of bones, branches and waste metal. Residents sell their souls to the Devil so they can keep up with the Joneses and have a Kratt to serve them. They are relatively cute (relative to everything else in the village) and you will end up wanting one despite the fact that, when they do decide to talk, it’s mostly to voice labour demands (“My master didn’t give me work so I wrung his neck”).

 

Farm girl Lina (Rea Lest) is in love with handsome young Hans (Jorgen Lilk) during the typically harsh, cold winter in the village. She’s so lovesick she’s willing to give her life for him and also visits a witch in a bid to fulfil her feelings. Unfortunately, her dad has promised her to an old farmer who repulses her, and the aforementioned Baron (Laser) and his daughter complicate matters when Hans falls in love with the latter (Jette Loona Hermanis).

 

The movie offers an authentically bleak wallow in medieval superstition and brutality, but it’s also prone to flights of fancy and painterly images of the natural world that are often breathtakingly beautiful. The tonal shifts feel organic rather than jarring, even as they encompass influences from Terry Gilliam to Guy Maddin. The humour is engagingly offbeat: locals strive to trick the Devil by replacing blood with blackcurrant juice or bid to fight off the plague by wearing trousers on their heads. The physically distinctive ensemble cast bring to life a fascinating collection of vivid characters, taking folk tales at face value and happily sacrificing their souls to steal more goods than they need. The modern parallels to rampant consumerism are just one of the pleasures to be had.

 

Steven West

 

 

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