Bijou Abas, Karl Jacob, Anna Klemp, Heidi Fellner, Alaina Lucy Rivera
…a quiet, meditative film that gently but deliberately upends many of the accepted narrative conventions about gender, nature, life and death.
A coming of age story centered on the traditions of deer hunting, Cold November is an indie drama that centres on Flo (Bijou Abbas), an apple-cheeked 12 year old girl who is keen as mustard to get out into the woods and bag her first buck.
Writer and director Karl Jacobs flips our gender expectations with his tale. Flo’s woodcraft mentors are her mother Amanda (Anna Klemp), aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner), and grandmother Georgia (Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding), with Jacobs himself in the relatively minor role of Flo’s uncle Craig. It’s an interesting spin on the hoary “rite of manhood” narrative, with the central hunting trip – explicitly an almost ritualised family tradition) – this is a strongly matriarchal clan, and the women are as eager for deer season as any man.
Narratively, Cold November is fairly straight forward and doesn’t bother to import needless drama from outside its concerns to spice things up. It doesn’t glorify slaughter, not does it condemn killing for food – these elements are presented as facts of life for Flo and co., and participating in these activities are a given for the tween. There’s a stillness and simplicity to the proceedings; we spend a lot of time sitting quietly in a deer blind, waiting for something to happen, while life goes on.
One of the key strengths of Cold November is that it isn’t gender blind – these aren’t just generic male characters who are gender-lifted – the women here deal with explicitly female issues, whether it be the pressures of being a single mother, or the untimely arrival of a first period (an element of the films overall “cycle of life” motif).
That’s not the only blood we get, either. Jacobs refuses to pull any punches when it comes to the mechanics of hunting, and the film’s key scene concerns Flo killing and field-dressing a deer on her own – a scene that may well disturb some viewers. It’s a commendable bit of verisimilitude.
Contrasting this is the shadow of a family trauma that overshadows the hunt, the effects of which are presented in an almost magical realist manner as Flo dreams of a recently dead relative. It’s an odd fit alongside the film’s predominantly realistic tone – not an unwelcome one, but certainly an unusual choice.
Ultimately, Cold November is a quiet, meditative film that gently but deliberately upends many of the accepted narrative conventions about gender, nature, life and death. There’s probably not a huge audience for it in Australia, but the audience it does find will appreciate it.