An intricate elaboration of aspects of a single incident, “November” is a stylistic tour de force dedicated more to constructing a cinematic puzzle than to providing dramatic satisfaction. Second feature by director Greg Harrison marks a significant change-of-pace from his Sundance 2000 entry “Groove,” as he repeatedly replays events relating to the murder of a young woman’s boyfriend to address issues of memory, guilt, perception, reality and imagination. Insular picture, barely more than an hour long, has points of interest, including a fine central performance by Courteney Cox, but not enough to make it a very viable theatrical attraction. Further fest play and upscale cable venues beckon.
Script by Benjamin Brand starts out in straightforward fashion, as the attractive Sophie (Cox) waits outside in her car at night while b.f. Hugh (James Le Gros) pops into a shabby corner market to buy her some post-dinner sweets. But he’s wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time; an unhinged hold-up man bursts in and blows away Hugh, the store owner and the latter’s son.
Even here, the greenish pall that envelopes the scene suggests a degree of stylization, and the ante is upped by stages as the story simultaneously progresses and fractures. Sophie begins seeing a shrink (Nora Dunn) to deal with her loss and sense of shame about having cheated on Hugh, and has meals with her mother (Anne Archer) that do little to improve her state of mind.
But soon, at the end of a photography class Sophie teaches, an extra slide mysteriously remains in the tray, one that shows the convenience store, evidently on the night of the murders, with Sophie’s car outside and blurry figures visible through the windows of the store. A la “Blow Up,” Sophie begins enlarging the image, trying to make sense of the fuzzy evidence, which attracts the interest of a detective.
As time and points of view start getting shuffled, alternate possibilities are introduced: Sophie is present in the store to witness the crimes; her secret lover shows up at the scene; Sophie lies to Hugh about her affair, then admits it, prompting him to leave her. Perhaps even Sophie is shot. Without spelling things out, ending leaves the viewer with enough to draw a satisfactory tentative conclusion about what has happened.
Given the very narrow conception of the story, what matters most is the way Harrison tells it, which he does with considerable visual and editing dexterity. Shooting often at night or in dark conditions with a 24p mini-DV camera, lenser Nancy Schreiber has shrewdly manipulated the system’s limitations to create an ominous, mysterious mood defined by edgy and color stained textures, and made it look good on the bigscreen. Harrison’s cutting is nimble, and soundtrack layering dense.
Cast is fine down the line, but it’s crucial that Cox, in a vast temperamental departure from her “Friends” persona, comes off better here than she has before in her limited bigscreen career. Looking smart in a shortish haircut, becoming glasses and simple clothes, thesp invests her character with a surface calm and intelligence that conceals internal confusion and disarray.