All around the world, children, on the cusp of puberty, go through a rite of passage. These rituals symbolize their transition into adulthood, a journey that’s only just beginning. Deep in the woods of Minnesota, this rite of passage is deer hunting.
Cold November follows the story of Florence (Bijou Abas), affectionately nicknamed Flor, a 12 year old girl who is about to hunt her very first deer. Her mother Amanda (Anna Klemp) and grandmother Georgia (Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding) have been preparing her for this moment. She learns how to properly use and care for a hunting rifle, a family heirloom, how to dress for the hunt, what to do in the look out spot, how to shoot the deer, and what to do with a deer or buck once it’s been killed. In the midst of all this Flor gets her period, another sign that womanhood is just around the corner. For this family and their community, deer hunting is not for sport; it’s for survival. The process is treated with respect and the animal is not a trophy, rather a means to feed the family. It’s a ritual passed on from one generation to the next and in this matriarch this is a treasured tradition. Visiting Flor and her mom are aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner) and uncle Craig (Karl Jacob). The couple are going through their own transition as they deal with the loss of their daughter Sweeney. We follow Flor as she prepares for her first hunt, how she deals with frustration on multiple hunts that result in no kills and what happens when she finally gets the opportunity to use all the knowledge and training she’s acquired but has to do it all on her own.
In his director’s statement, Karl Jacob writes “I hope to challenge the stereotype that the hunting ritual is an inherently male practice. I grew up in a similar situation to Florence, where my mother, aunts, and grandmother played a huge part in my life and had also gone through this hunting experience as young women.” Jacob’s character Craig is the only male character in the film. This is truly a story about women. Three generations in a matriarch and how they prepare their youngest for the life ahead. The female perspective is highly valued and respected in the story. Flor’s first period is a significant moment in the story and it’s given time. Foreshadowing the hunt in the future, Flor has to deal with this change all on her own.
The movie is spare and beautiful. It gives itself room for the characters to have their moments and for the story to live and breathe in its own world. There is no rush to get anywhere but its also expertly paced. I loved the cinematography especially the bright colors of the hunting clothes against the stark backgrounds. It reminded me of Track of the Cat (1954) where Robert Mitchum wears a bright red coat against a muted color palette of the backwoods during winter. My only minor criticism with Cold November is that I didn’t care for the one scene when the camera shoots from inside a deer carcass looking out. This felt unnecessary to me.
In order to truly appreciate the film, you must be comfortable enough to watch the women handle dear carcasses. You won’t see the moment of death nor will you see the animal suffer. In one scene you’ll hear a buck call out in pain but its quickly shot to put its out of its misery. The film makes an effort to show respect for the deer and the hunt. Craig reveals to Flor how he thanks the animal after a kill. Flor’s mother Amanda talks at length about how they use the meat for sustenance, how not to kill more than you need and not letting the animal suffer. If you are vegan, vegetarian or a member of PETA, you probably won’t want to watch this film. I’m an omnivore and I have enough respect for the cycle of life and the killing of animals for meat that I know when to criticize the process. For example, I refuse to eat veal and salmon because of what I believe are unethical farming/hunting methods. Cold November treated hunting for deer and the consumption of venison with great respect which I appreciated.
This is a fantastic indie film with wonderful performances, stunning cinematography and a great care for its subject. I highly recommend you give Cold November a try.