Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale Review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Whether you've been naughty or nice, better guard your chimneys with a reliable firearm this Christmas...
In a nod to Hans Christian Andersen's sinister fairy-tales and 80s children's adventure flicks, Finnish film-maker Jalmari Helander's first feature, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, is released just in time for the festive season.
It's 24 days to Christmas and the livelihoods of a small mountainside community in Lapland are suffering – the reindeer they slaughter and sell have all been massacred. Seeking an answer, an angry group cross over into an excavation site and find more than they bargained for. It seems Korvatunturi mountain is some kind of giant ice box. Pietari, the son of one of these reindeer farmers, believes the original Santa Claus has been dug up.
Soon strange things start to happen in the community – all the radiators are torn off the walls, a hair dryer is stolen and a farmer has all his potatoes emptied from their sacks. Pietari's father finds a peculiar naked old man in the wolf trap outside their house and Pietari's friend Juuso is missing - a strange hay doll in his place. Realising the link between the unusual goings-on and seeking some form of compensation for their losses, the gang take “Santa” hostage, putting him in a Santa suit and cage before contacting the evil croaky-voiced dig boss.
Ingenious in the idea alone, the main strength of Rare Exports lies in the meticulous oddball characterisation of Pietari and Onni Tommila's sublime performance as the boy himself. Pietari's innocence is played up in the first half of the film as he munches on “Gingerbread just like mum used to make” and thinks Santa has been outside his window.
It's not until he does some research and discovers “the Coca Cola Santa was a hoax – the real Santa Claus tears naughty kids to pieces” that his bizarre antics start to surface – dragging around a cuddly toy dog on a lead that he talks to called “Vuppe”, asking his father to smack him (“15 good lashes should do it”) and trying to protect himself against an evil Santa by placing a mantrap in the fire place and wearing an ice hockey suit accompanied by a gun.
Pietari's innocent acceptance of the abnormal makes him the perfect unexpected hero figure. In the latter half of Rare Exports this pale and endearing nerdy-looking child eccentric is firing a loaded gun, seen in a hilarious slow-motion shoot out and casually firing out twisted big blockbuster action lines like “It's either me or Santa – I suggest Santa” and “You do your job – I'll deal with this” - and all to serious stereotypical blockbuster music. The father-son reunion towards the film's close is fantastically inverted.
Serious attempts to explain Santa's history are tackled by Pietari reading “The Truth About Santa Claus” with pictures of a horned Santa torturing children. Through this “textbook” he learns the Sumi people froze the real Santa and dug up the ice block, burying it in a pile of rocks locally. Although ridiculous, the genius of this back story is that it is no less unbelievable than the real Christmas story and perfectly fits with the children's fantasy element of Rare Exports.
Much of the comedy in Rare Exports is played to perfection by dead-pan serious performances from an excellent cast throughout. The opening new excavation site safety instructions cards are a good example of the kind of low-level humour Rare Exports thrives on – wash behind your ears, no cursing, no drinking... Scenes involving a pen full of naked bearded men and “Santa” tenderness training lessons are the kind of outlandish humour to be expected.
Of course Jalmari Helander can hardly resist the temptation to play with expected Christmas traditions through scripting: “Goddamn it – Santa's going to find out who's naughty or nice.” First attempts at speaking to “Santa” in English are comically surreal but also strangely believable as a savage “Santa” is instructed “Down boy – go down” and asked “How do you like the land of the Northern Lights?” - a conversational starter question normally used with first-time visitors to the area.
Although there's almost a hint of paedophilia (“He knows all the kids – he's been spying on us...”), there's not enough gore, too much humour and too much heart to make Rare Exports pure horror. The presence of a naked blood-hungry Santa and lack of a mother figure suggest a not so merry Christmas but Rare Exports still manages to feel more like a twisted 80s kids adventure. It's just a shame Jalmari Helander didn't round off this near-perfect debut by making greater use of his critically acclaimed popular Rare Exports web shorts.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is released in the UK on December 3rd 2010. To catch a sneak preview of a custom made genuine Lapland Santa get down to Carnaby Street from 11am until 8pm tomorrow (Thursday 25 November) outside Liberty's and check-out links to Helander's shorts at Leeds Film Festival Night Of The Dead.
Director/Writer: Jalmari Helander
Running Time: 82 mins
Starring: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Illmari Jarvenpaa
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