The Spirits Inhabit: Our Review of ‘November’ (2017) on OVID

Posted in by - July 27, 2023
The Spirits Inhabit: Our Review of ‘November’ (2017) on OVID

Liina (Rea Lest) is an Estonian peasant living during centuries past, and every All Souls Day, she watches ghosts visit from the underworld. One of these ghosts is her mother, who she dutifully feeds. As a peasant girl, her life is all about duty, but she also has her desires. One of these is to marry a fellow peasant boy, Hans (Jörgen Liik). He, sadly, happens to be in love with a German Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis). One of the people helping Lina so she can get Hans’ attention is Luise. She has no idea that someone is also pining for her. A local leader, Sander (Heino Kalm), watches all of this. Meanwhile, he’s trying to stop another outbreak of the plague from killing the town.

Rainer Sarnet’s November has souls and love spells and demons and kratts, the last of those beings by the way are Estonian folkloric creatures. Those ones have household items as body parts. These are a lot of folkloric beings to put in a film, but it uses those beings sparingly so that they feel present even in scenes that depict human drama. It depicts the confluence of the fantasy and the human worlds in black and white. Using black and white photography nowadays is a consciouse decision that this film justifies, as the filmmakers here use great costumes and the right locations to depict the past. Viewers can feel the textures of the characters’ clothes as well as the spaces they inhabit.

This film deals with the fantatsical and the personal. As the film deals with those two topics personally, I at first tried to hold back on the story’s sociopolitical aspects. But if I see it I at least have to brush up on those topics. Seeing these characters in that light helps give dimensions to their motivations. At the surface, these motivations feel like they come from greed. If anything, their motivations come from their need to survive. These characters are, after all, surviving two different colonial powers. The camera captures their faces as circumstances give them bad hands, as well as them planning ways to get out of situations they’d rather not be in. This film is deeper than its haters are saying it is.

November‘s characterization is good, but I keep coming back to its award winning cinematography. An elevator pitch for this film may be that it’s Bela Tarr but short, weird, and witchy (the film clocks in at 115 minutes). But it layers that main canvas with more erudite references. Some of its portrature feel like what would happen in pre-Raphaelite painters only used black and white. And some scenes are reminiscent of James Whale’s depiction of aristocracy and mechanics. There’s also the crisp, occassional still life, objects that the camera depicts while inhabiting its characters perspective. These people want things and each other so bad and yes, the fact that they’ll never have them is effectively tragic.

Watch November on OVID.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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