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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

November movie review: the woods are just trees, the trees are just wood

November red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
An all-style and very-little-substance exercise in random oddity and weird imagery. Dispenses with engaging characters and revels in its own meaninglessness as if emptiness were deep and significant.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

I recently said, after seeing the terrific joint Finnish-Estonian production The Fencer, that I was curious to see more of what is coming out of Estonia’s newly revitalized film culture. I may have spoken too soon. November — Estonia’s official submission to this year’s Oscars (it was not nominated) — is an all-style and very-little-substance exercise in random oddity and weird imagery, mind-fuckery for mind-fuckery’s sake, except it doesn’t actually fuck with your mind, or with anything at all, at least not in any way that challenges us. This is a movie that dispenses with characters who engage us on any level, and doesn’t bother with a setting or situations that make any sense, not even on a fantasy level, yet this is also a movie that believes that invoking fairy tales and magic means all bets are off and no rules apply. November isn’t only the opposite of intriguing: it revels in its own meaninglessness as if emptiness were deep and significant.

Liina’s hobbies include gardening, knitting, and creeping around the forest at night under a black veil of dread.

Liina’s hobbies include gardening, knitting, and creeping around the forest at night under a black veil of dread.

Working from the bestselling Estonian novel Rehepapp, by Andrus Kivirähk (which does not appear to have been translated into English), writer-director Rainer Sarnet is ostensibly telling the story of 19th-century peasant Liina (Rea Lest), who longs for fellow villager Hans (Jörgen Liik), but he’s in love with the beautiful young baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis). But even that simple description of the plot is more cohesive and more cogent than anything we get onscreen. Liina and Hans live in a nihilistic faux-pagan culture in which love is “insignificant,” in which little animates anyone beyond rampant superstition, and where survival in their harsh, cold forest is a desperate struggle… or it would be, if anyone bothered to do a damn thing about their own welfare. I mean this: no one here seems to engage in any sort of work that likes of which we would associate with peasants trying to scratch out a living. They seem to focus their efforts, such as they are, on stealing from their neighbors and making deals with the Devil, literally, in order to bring to life robotic “kratts” assembled from farm implements that no one uses for actual farming. And then the kratts do some other work that also mostly doesn’t seem to do with putting food on the table.

November is so hollow that it’s not even repulsive, even when it should be.

I’m making it sound more sensible than it all is.

What’s left is Mart Taniel’s cinematography, which is truly beautiful, and some striking, even unsettling imagery, such as the creepy kratts — some of which are insectile; others are like demonic robots dreamed up by medieval alchemists — and a sequence in which the spirits of the dead, dressed in white, move through a spooky nighttime graveyard. But while November may have atmosphere to spare, it is pointlessly bleak, with nothing consequential to say about all the significant matters it glosses over: family, class, greed, sloth, religion, death. It’s so hollow that it’s not even repulsive, even with a rape scene, another of attempted rape, a bit in which people eat their own shit as part of a magic potion, and other grotesqueries.

A pox on it, I say.

November is now playing at City Cinemas Village East in New York. It opens March 2nd in Los Angeles at Arena Cinelounge. See the film’s official site for future dates and cities.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

red light 1 star

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November (2018) | directed by Rainer Sarnet
US/Can release: Feb 23 2018

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card (now updated for 2017’s trolls!) you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    And next, Hans will write a dissertation: On the Uselessness of Everything…

    Not so much mindfuck as mind-topless-bar.

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  • bronxbee

    just from the photos, i think the writer-director had a bad experience with some fellini movies after being forced to watch existential german expressionist movies.

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