Monday, March 07, 2011

Rare Exports

Directed by: Jalmari Helander
Produced by: Petri Jokiranta
Screenplay by: Jalmari Helander
Story by: Jalmari Helander; Juuso Helander
Starring: Tommi Korpela; Per Christian Ellefsen; Ville Virtanen; Jorma Tommila
Music by: Juri Seppä
Cinematography: Mika Orasmaa
Release date(s): December 3, 2010 (Finland)
Running time 84 min.
Country: Finland; Norway
Language: Finnish; English

Rare Exports is a satire wrapped in the format of a horror/monster movie, sold as a Christmas film, complete with a child in the lead. If it sounds bizarre, that’s exactly what the 2010 Finnish film is, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The subtitle of the film reads: ‘From the land of the original Santa,’ and it involves a group of people whose business involves hunting reindeers. In the US, the film was released with the subtitle, ‘A Christmas Tale.’ But, if you are looking for merry, merry time here, you’ve been warned.

The film begins with an US millionaire excavating at the Korvatunturi mountain with small crew, who gets very excited when he’s told that they have found sawdust beneath the stone mould. He confirms that the legend is true, and he is about to fulfil the dream of his childhood. The excavation site looks eerily haunted, and in the context of a monster/horror movie, it’s not a good sign.

Two small boys from the nearby Finnish border sneak into the site to see what’s going on. One of them, Pietari, realises that something is indeed wrong. It’s two days before Christmas, and like all children of his age, he believes in Santa Claus, only that the Santa he has read about is not the old fellow with the ho, ho, ho laughter. Pietari’s Santa is a big, bad monster with two crooked horns in his head, who beats up children and eats them. A long time ago, tired of his cruelty, inhabitants of the land had tricked him to a lake where he was frozen, and the people had built a mould of stone above. Now, the Americans are digging up Santa’s grave.

One day before Christmas. Pietari wakes up in fright, especially when he sees giant foot marks on the snow on the roof of his room. Has Santa escaped from his grave? Pietari wants to warm his father, a butcher (His mother is dead, and the father and son duo lives in an isolated house in the snow-fill mountain, an ideal location for such a story to unfold.), but he’s busy. They have a big day ahead, to hoard reindeer with his partners.

Things dampen considerably when they find just two reindeers. Further investigation leads the party to the border where they find 86 reindeers, all gutted and useless. Santa must have been very hungry, Pietari thinks. His father is very upset and very angry, there goes his business. He thinks it’s the work of the American and his henchmen. The party crosses the border to the excavation site to demand compensation, the price of 86 reindeers. They find the site empty. For Pietari, his worse nightmare is confirmed. They have unearthed the original Santa. He wants to warn his father again, but who’ll listen to him?

Not until Pietari’s father finds a strange old man in the trap he had made for wolves. Strangely, this naked old man shows a glimmer of life when he sees Pietari. His father asks if Pietari knows who the old man is. Pietari answers, he’s Santa Claus. But Pietari is wrong, the old man is not Santa, he’s one of Santa’s helpers, an elf.

Where’s Santa then? And, why are the heaters from the neighbouring town are disappearing? And, as Pietari investigates, even the children are missing. He senses what’s going on. “It’s going to either Santa or me,” he finally tells his father, and hatches a masterplan to face Santa the demon.

Though Pietari is the protagonist of the film, Rare Exports is by no means a children’s film, far from it. The tone of the narration, the location, the way the film is mounted and shot, in dark blue and gray, and at night, it adheres to the classic monster movie genre, and excels in it. Until we come to the last act, the business of the ‘exports’ in the title. Here’s the film gives us a biting satire on American consumerism, especially the business Christmas. I am saying no more.

(Wikipedia tells me about the original myth of Father Christmas which inspired Rare Exports: “Home of the Father Christmas Korvatunturi is the place where Father Christmas (or Joulupukki in Finnish) lives. This legend comes from a children's radio show called Markus-sedän lastentunti ("Children's hour with Uncle Markus") hosted by Markus Rautio and broadcast by the Finnish Broadcasting Company between years 1927 and 1956. Uncle Markus told children that from this "Ear Fell" Father Christmas can hear what all the children are saying so he can find out if the children behave and obey their parents (and therefore may receive gifts next Christmas). This legend is an important plot point in the 2010 film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.”)

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