'November' Review: Prepare to Have Your Mind Fried By This Far-Out Fairy Tale

Estonian folk tale involving peasants, perversion and possessed animal skulls should, in a perfect world, become a new midnight-movie classic

'November' isn't your usual gorgeous B&W folk tale involving perversion and possessed animal skulls – it's a new midnight-movie classic. Our review. Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

A marvelously strange film from Estonian writer-director Rainer Sarnet, November uses ancient folk tales from the region to deconstruct a love triangle that turns the familiar into something shockingly unexpected. It's both gravely serious and a demonically funny, a blend meant to catch audiences off balance. Mission accomplished.

Based on an Estonian bestseller by Andrus Kivirähk, this ravishing movie tells the story of Liina (Rea Lest), a young village girl; she pines for Hans (Jörgen Liik), a peasant who yearns for a visiting German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis) far above his rural, 19th-century station. Liina's money-hungry father has promised her to an old-fart farmer who repulses her. To make matter worse, the village is beset by plague, which takes the form of a woman who can end dreams in an instant. (Some advice: The epidemic might not get you if you take off your pants and wear them on your head.)

When stuck between a rock and a hard place, these folks have the option of making a deal with the Devil. For the price of a soul, the Prince of Darkness will animate your kratt – a whatsit that can be made of farm tools, animal parts, human hair, snow or whatever's handy. Once on the move, though, watch out for all kinds of mystical mischief, including excluding murder. (These things hate to be bored.) Liina, who may be a werewolf, visits a witch to help her nab Hans. And her beloved sneaks around at night watching the Baroness sleepwalk in the moonlight. The problem is that not even a possessed kratt can bestow love, the one thing immune to human or satanic manipulation.

Poetic images are abound, monochromatic and mesmerizing, and without sentimental crutches that usually accompany ghost stories. Everything feels freshly observed, offbeat in ways that make us see the past through eyes that are woke. (As for your eyes, they'll pop at the sight of the black-and-white visual miracles performed by director of photography Mart Taniel.) Christian traditions go head to head with pagan rituals, self-gratification battles selflessness and love unrequited may be better than no love at all. Set to a score by Polish musician Jacaszek, who knows how to use an electric guitar to fry your nerves, November is complex, confounding, surreal and all-out sensational. It'll put a spell on you.