Based on the novel REHEPAPP EHK NOVEMBER (OLD BARNY AKA NOVEMBER) by Andrus Kivirähk, NOVEMBER, now streaming on Shudder, is a trippy Estonian fantasy film about combining classic tragedy with strange peasant folklore and a portrayal of a raw humanity that has a dark sense of humor about itself. I found it utterly engaging and full of little surprises.
It’s 19th century Estonia, where Liina, a peasant girl, loves Hans, but Hans loves the daughter of the local baron, now visiting from Germany. Each attempt to use supernatural powers to make the object of their affections love them back, but a tragic fate may lie in store.
The film is shot in black and white, establishing a village where the peasants live in ignorance and poverty. They’re a lazy, greedy bunch, but they seem humorously resigned to these poor qualities, and they find Liina’s and Hans’s romantic pining as amusing if silly. While the baron rules the land, they seem to be the ones in charge, deciding everything for themselves and casually robbing the baron when they can. They’re Christians but consider Christianity as another spiritual tool set along with their local superstitions and folklore, which allow them to make deals with the Devil at a local crossroads, fashion kratts–animated servants–from household tools and objects, entertain dead loved ones, shape shift, trick the Black Death, and more.
The result is a very simple, basic plot that nonetheless seems to move quickly from one strange set piece to the next, with plenty of dark humor, mostly dealing with the rascally nature of the peasants contrasting with the nobler romantic aspirations of the young lovers. The world-building is terrific, the effect darkly humorous, and the overall story compelling. Definitely worth a watch if you’re into something different.