Tag Archives: Rainer Sarnet

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE INVISIBLE FIGHT (2023)

AKA Nähtamatu võitlus

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The Invisible Fight is currently available for VOD rental or purchae. Physical media debuts on 4/16/24.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rainer Sarnet

FEATURING: Ursel Tilk, Kaarel Pogga, Ester Kuntu, Indrek Sammul

PLOT: A conscript is inspired to join a local monastery where he hopes to pursue his new dream of mastering holy martial arts after surviving a massacre at the hands of three kung fu masters who descend from the heavens.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Deeply informed by both Eastern Orthodox Christian theology and kung fu film lore, Rainer Sarnet’s fish-out-of-water comedy bubbles over with goofy slapstick, heavy metal, and ancient wisdom.

COMMENTS: The path toward enlightenment is traveled with humility—and preferably while listening to Black Sabbath. The Invisible Fight dives deeply into the past, with anachronistic layers coexisting as joyfully as its insouciance interweaves with asceticism. What could easily have come across as the height of judgmental arrogance—fun poked at holy traditions (brick pillow, anyone?), martial artistry (pierogi fight and sausage stand-off), and flippant dismissal of a sinister Soviet past—sublimates into a vapor of merry rumination as it zips from set piece to set piece, leavening its silliness with wisdom, and vice versa, as its main character grows from a blithe, metal-head mechanic into a blithe, metal-head Starets monk.

It is 1973, and our hero, a border guard named Rafael, witnesses the unlikely arrival of three kung fu fighters. Though his peers are murdered mercilessly—if quite stylishly—by this gang of heavenly warriors, Rafael is spared, with his commander’s dying words (“I guess God has other plans for you”) seared into his young mind as deeply as the transcendent run-in with the boombox-bearing bad-asses. Fast forward to life at home, where he rocks, and while rocking rocks long, rebellious hair, a shiny cross (in defiance of the Soviet authorities), and a dumb little red car that’s always breaking down.

Stylistically, The Invisible Fight owes its verve to silent comedy, classic wuxia, and the ubiquitous Black Sabbath classic, “The Wizard.” (This track is, appropriately, from the album “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll.”) Cartoony blast-titles mark the chapters, with designations like “A Lesson in Humility”, “A Lesson in Humility Number 2”, “Shadow Fight”, “The Demon”, and so on. Sarnet plinks in Looney Tunes sound cues for winks, wobbles, whacks, and whiplash. Practical martial arts duels are liberally sprinkled throughout, whether they be between Rafael and a rival monk, or during a bout with a State Security agent on a holy road trip.

This film is, as you have sussed by now, silly to the core, and borders on giddy. But this renders the deep philosophy all the more remarkable and memorable. Christ’s many icon-ic gestures are correlated to martial moves; Rafael’s challenges, though often solved with kung fu, echo the trials and tribulations of holy men of yore; and the overarching—might I even say, fundamental—lessons of Christ’s philosophical teachings are constantly reinforced while never feeling preachy. Humility, forgiveness, and self-awareness elude Rafael. But by the end, under the benevolent tutelage of the elderly brother Nafanail, Rafael cruises his blindly-cheerful self to a form of Zen—introducing the monastics to the joys of Black Sabbath along the way.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director Rainer Sarnet’s deliriously weird The Invisible Fight would be irksome if it weren’t crafted so lovingly and with a charming earnestness.” — Charles Lyons-Burt, Slant (contemporaneous)

Invisible Fight [Blu-ray]
  • Kung fu meets heavy metal meets Orthodox monks in this Estonian action comedy

356. NOVEMBER (2017)

“They’re the sort of old legends that are made up just to find a simple reason for every complicated thing. No one wants to admit that they’re foolish. The Frog of the North appeared in the sky from who knows where, and he disappeared again who knows where. But people couldn’t be content with that! Humans can’t stand things that are outside their reach.”–Andrus Kiviräh, “The Man Who Spoke Snakish”

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rainer Sarnet

FEATURING: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik

PLOT: Estonian peasant Liina, who may be able to transform into a wolf, is in love with fellow villager Hans, who returns her affection until he catches a glimpse of the daughter of the German baron who now rules their territory and is immediately smitten. Liina appeals to a witch to cast a spell to turn Hans’ heart to her. Hans, in turn, makes a deal with the Devil to build a kratt he believes will help him reach his beloved.

BACKGROUND:

  • November is based on the Estonian novel “Rehepapp: ehk November” by Andrus Kiviräh, which was a massive success in its homeland. “Rehepapp” has not been translated into English, although Kiviräh’s second novel, “The Man Who Spoke Snakish,” which treats fading pagan beliefs in a similar fashion, has been.
  • The producers raised money through crowdfunding to produce a model of a kratt, then used the test footage to secure money for the film from Polish and Dutch sources.
  • Most of the minor villager roles are played by nonprofessional actors.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Our first look at a kratt: it’s a cow skull tied to three sticks, with sharp farm implements tied to them, which cartwheels across the lawn of an 19th century villa on its way to break down a stable door.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Kratt airlifting cow; the chicken dead; two-ass plague gambit

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Set in a world where our forefathers’ craziest superstitions are literally true, November weaves a Gothic tapestry of sleepwalking noblewomen, hags, bewitched friars, and dead ancestors who sometimes manifest as chickens. And, of course, kratts that turn into primitive helicopters. You could not have seen that one coming.


U.S. trailer for November

COMMENTS: November is, at least superficially, like the Estonian Continue reading 356. NOVEMBER (2017)

NOVEMBER (2017)

November has been promoted to the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Comments are closed on this review. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rainer Sarnet

FEATURING: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik

PLOT: Aided by witchcraft, a love triangle unfolds in an Estonian village in the 19th Century.Still from November (2017)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s only February, and November is already our first contender for weirdest movie of 2018. Set in a world where our forefathers’ craziest superstitions are literally true, November weaves a Gothic tapestry of sleepwalking noblewomen, hags, bewitched friars, and dead ancestors who sometimes manifest as chickens. And, of course, kratts that turn into primitive helicopters. You could not have seen that one coming.

COMMENTS: At one point young Hans, listening to magical tales from an unlikely source, proclaims “Unbelievable stories! They’re so enchanting.” There is an overarching plot in November, but it takes a back seat to the enchanting digressions. Set in a 19th century that feels like the depths of the Dark Ages (aside from a few anachronisms like muskets and tobacco), November unspools like a compendium of folk legends. Beginning on November 1, All Souls Day, when the dead join their descendants for a light meal, the story takes us on a tour of peasant beliefs and traditions, with a few mini-tales recounted inside of the main plot: stories of mysterious women seeking passage across the river, of effete lovers mooning in a gondola. The dreamlike monochrome cinematography and a doom-laden musical score nurtures the magical atmosphere, while the griminess of the characters’ hygiene and the baseness of their morals adds a contrasting level of realism that makes this alternate Estonia strangely believable.

The most exotic feature of this magical realist landscape are the kratts, automatons made from whatever farm implements (or, as we see later, other materials) the peasants have lying around, powered by souls that must be purchased from the Devil. Before the opening credits we meet a three-legged monster cobbled together out of broomsticks, metal rods, an axe, a sickle, and a skull; it’s capable of airlifting a cow, and develops a nasty temper when it’s not assigned enough work. The kratts may be the most uniquely Estonian element here, but folkloric magic is an everyday part of these character’s lives: diabolic meetings at midnight crossroads, lupine transformations on the full moon, disgustingly compiled love potions, and a bizarre scheme to trick the plague into skipping over the village all play parts in the story. Persistent pagan beliefs dominate Christian ones, leading to absurdly humorous situations. The villagers see Jesus as a powerful deity who can be gamed for their personal gain, and find non-Church sanctioned uses for consecrated hosts. They’ve adapted the magical elements of Christianity to their own purposes, but haven’t internalized its ethics: they are a barbaric, mean, and backstabbing lot of louts, continually scheming and stealing from both their doting German overlords and from each other. This depraved condition may be imposed on them by the necessity of their hardscrabble existence and servitude. Young love, however, remains a beacon of pure idealism, even in this bleak world; only proving, perhaps, that some ancient superstitions remain with us even today.

Frequently astounding, with a new fabulous wrinkle every ten minutes, November will enchant fans of weird cinema, though its downbeat nature and lack of likable characters may make it a hard sell to your straight cinema friends. Cold, but lovely, like a frosty November morn, its fascinations lie mostly on the surface, but what a surface it is.

November opens in New York this Friday (Feb. 23), expands to Los Angeles on March 2nd, and will play major cities in the U.S. throughout the Spring. See the official site for a list of screenings.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…fantastical, strange, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and just the right amount of weird to give us this strange fairy tale that we feel it’s a world we might have inhabited in a past life.”–Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)