Cold November forgoes convention in order to explore a young woman's experience growing up in a way that packs a subtle, yet lasting punch.
The last decade alone has given us some pretty great movies about young women coming of age in their teenage years. Some have come in the forms of indie visions like Pariah and Lady Bird, while others have descended from the John Hughes tradition of high school comedy (Easy A, The Edge of Seventeen) or even told their stories though the lens of genre, resulting in such unique entries as Winter's Bone and Hanna. This brings us to Karl Jacob's Cold November, a quietly powerful work that has shades of films like Winter's Bone and Hanna, yet tells its story in a way that's wholly its own. Cold November forgoes convention in order to explore a young woman's experience growing up in a way that packs a subtle, yet lasting punch.
Bijou Abas stars in Cold November as Florence (Flo for short), a twelve-year old girl growing up in small town Minnesota with her mother Amanda (Anna Klemp), aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner), and grandmother Georgia (Mary Kay Fortier-Spaulding). The women in their family have a longtime tradition of hunting deer for food, as a rite of passage that reflects their maturation and ongoing journey into adulthood. Having only just passed her Firearms Safety test, Flo is eager to join the rest of her family - including her uncle Craig (Jacob) - on their next hunt in the wilderness, now that she's old enough.
As Flo gears up for her first trip into the wild, she finds herself beset by feelings; some brought on by the physical changes her body is going through, and others by the memory of her cousin Sweeney (Alaina Lucy Rivera), who passed away some time ago. Things don't get any easier when Flo and her family head out into the woods either, as Flo gets a crash-course in the reality of what hunting and killing a deer is like. Along the way, however, she begins to form a deeper understanding of not only herself, but life, death, and the way the world at large works.
Above all else, Cold November succeeds in showing the world from Flo's developing, but at the same time understandably limited point of view. The conversations between Flo and her family are a big part of this; what the adults say to her (or, more importantly, don't say to her) filters much of the film's larger story through Flo's perspective. There's a sense of realism to Jacob's written dialogue that extends to the visuals here, further enriching Cold November's grounded exploration of Flo's personal experiences and inner struggles. Even so, director of photography Benjamin Kasuike (who also worked on Jacob's 2013 directing debut, Pollywogs) manages to incorporate some striking imagery - especially during the scenes where Flo's orange-clad family is hunting in the wintery Minnesotan wilderness - in a way that is consistent with the film's low-budget vérité aesthetic.
What really sets Cold November apart as a coming of age story is the way it examines hunting as a matriarchal tradition, rather than a patriarchal one. The film goes beyond mere gender-swapping in this regard by juxtaposing the reality of what hunting, killing, and carving up deer is actually like with the day to day challenges faced by the women here (be it Amanda's life as a single mom or Flo dealing with her period for the first time). Many of the film's scenes focus extensively on the minutiae of these processes, further pulling viewers into Flo's world and strengthening Cold November's central analogy between hunting and merely being a woman. It's an effective comparison and one that makes Flo's coming of age narrative all the more compelling and unconventional.
Abas is essentially a newcomer to the big screen, but her inexperience arguably benefits the Flo character; her emotions are more raw and unrefined than a more trained child actor might've been, much in the way that an actual twelve-year old would be. Something similar could be said for the adult actors in Cold November; their performances can be rough around the edges at times, but that plays to the sense of naturalism and semi-improvisatory vibe of the proceedings here. The film's serious moments in turn avoid coming off as melodramatic or contrived, allowing them to play stronger and resonate more emotionally.
Cold November can admittedly be almost too quiet and non-contrived for its own good. The film is nearly silent for long stretches between conversations (save for ambient sound effects and Kubilay Uner's gentle score), to the degree that it becomes patience taxing in some scenes. Jacob is also far more interested in his characters' inner workings and mundane day to day lives than plot, resulting in a film that has a loose three act structure in ways both good and bad. As such, Cold November will probably be too slow moving and contemplative for some viewers' tastes.
At the same time, Cold November is the sort of meditative indie film that can and should be enjoyed most comfortably at home - making its immediate release on iTunes and Vimeo all the more ideal. It may even have more luck reaching a wider audience on these platforms than in theaters, and deservedly so; Jacob has crafted a worthwhile story that deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as other great films about girls navigating their treacherous teen years in the 21st century. Cold November has already garnered some recognition on the film festival circuit, where it was crowned the Narrative Feature Jury Award winner at the 2017 Memphis Indie Film Festival. It thus joins recent direct On Demand and/or streaming releases like Cargo on the list of good independent ventures that, fingers crossed, will thrive as counter-programming as this year's summer blockbuster season keeps on trucking along.
Cold November is now available through iTunes and Vimeo On Demand. It is 92 minutes long and is not rated. However, it is intended for mature audiences and contains graphic imagery, as well as adult language.
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