RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)
(Directed by Jalmari Helander)
Film review by LL Soares
Finally, the secret of Santa Claus is revealed!
In the new Finnish flick, RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE, we learn the true meaning of Christmas Cheer in the town where Santa Claus supposedly originated. When a drilling team finds packing sawdust and ice in the center of a mountain, they realize that the mountain itself is a giant cold storage unit. What’s being kept inside? Santa Claus! Time to cheer and dance around the Christmas tree, right? Not exactly.
Little Pietari (Onni Tommila) a funny-looking little boy with a sad face, hears what’s going on and does a little research on the origins of Santa Claus. He’s not too happy about what he finds. The original Santa tales aren’t about brightly wrapped presents and candy canes; instead, the very first Santa appears to have been a sadistic demon who was very hung up on who was naughty and who was nice, and who didn’t hesitate to administer vicious punishments to the naughty! It turns out he was tricked into being frozen inside the mountain, to protect the outside world, where – somehow – his legend has mutated into one of presents and stockings and milk and cookies.
In his old books, Pietari sees illustrations of children being beaten with whips and even worse, and he’s suddenly not so eager to meet the real Santa face-to-face.
Pietari lives alone with his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila). When the drilling team uses dynamite to get at the mountain’s secrets, Pietari anticipates the worst, and he’s right. Soon afterwards, the annual reindeer round-up (the source of his father’s income) is interrupted when hundreds of deer are found slaughtered in a heap. And strange items start disappearing from people’s homes, like radiators and stoves. Even naughty children start to vanish, including Pietari’s closest friend, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää).
A trap covered with branches (devised by Rauno) turns up a strange discovery. It’s not wolves who have been spooked by the explosions and have slaughtered the deer; it’s something much stranger. They find an old, naked man with a long white beard, who seems a bit feral. Is this the long-lost Santa Claus? And if so, why are there hundreds of others just like him wandering around the snowy village in a sudden rush of weird (and often violent) activity?
This is the point where Pietari puts on a helmet and padding and leads his father and his fellow hunters to form a defensive unit, armed and ready to protect their sleepy village. Like a pint-sized Rambo, Pietari (who you’ll notice was not on the list of naughty children!) hangs from a gigantic net being transported by a helicopter at a key moment late in the film, risking his very life to save his friends and protect the outside world from the second coming of Father Christmas!
The big pay-off/punch line involves a clever way to make money off of hundreds of captured elves. RARE EXPORTS is a quirky little movie that enjoys toying with our concepts of Christmas and Santa Claus, and it has its fun moments, but it comes off, ultimately, as little more than a clever novelty film.
A smart little idea, the movie itself is a holiday trifle with a slightly sharp edge, which is something at least in this season that can be a little too sugary sweet. But the final third of the movie, where Pietari becomes a stoic little general for the forces of good, reveals that, despite its dark tone, RARE EXPORTS, is yet another holiday film where a child saves the day.
A nice antidote to the mostly idiotic Santa Claus films we’ve been churning out here in America for the last decade. But I give it two knives.
I have to admit, however, that I’m curious to see more from Finland’s movie industry. Let’s hope there are more films, and more ambitious ones at that, to come.
(c) Copyright 2010 by LL Soares