In 2003, Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander made a short film called Rare Exports, Inc. And then in 2005, another one called Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions. Yet in 2010, Helander revisited his old works and made his feature film debut, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. And it certainly isn’t some ordinary Christmas tale.
In Korvatunturi mountains of northern Finland, a big excavation is being led by an old scientist with a British accent, and a man with a questionable accent, who are then referred to as the Americans. They are digging the enormous mountain in search of something immensely important and unthinkable—the real Santa Claus. Yes, in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Santa Clause is not a big, merry dude carrying presents whose coming to town is something that the children await every Christmas, but rather a sinister monster whose old myth include hitting half naked children and putting them to boil in a huge cauldron. Young Pietari is incredibly informed about all this, burying himself in books and references about the old monster.
Pietari lives with his father, Rauno, a widower who bakes great gingerbreads for his son. Rauno herds reindeers, along with two other guys, and one day they find a bunch of dead reindeers all over a field. The sudden mass slaughter of those reindeers is mysterious to them and they quickly blame the wolves and also the Americans, whose excavation project prompts the wolves to run free and become a threat to their dear reindeers. But Pietari knows that that is not the case and that there is a whole different cause behind the incident.
Rare Exports is some sort of a parody and is said to be inspired by the ancient Scandinavian mythology. Its ideas are fresh; its huge, horned Santa is interesting. It takes something that we all know and twists it all the way around. Yes it’s a parody, yes it’s funny, but sometimes it can also feel like a horror movie. Santa is not the only creepy thing in this movie, in fact his helpers are even creepier. Tens (or even hundreds) of old naked men with long, white hair and beard can be seen running around for some of the scenes. The Santa himself is never fully shown, but the elves are enough to creep you out.
There are some funny scenes that can entertain you, and I guess some twisted stuff that fantasy lovers would enjoy. But I personally find the whole movie dark and bizarre. It’s described as a fantasy film and I can see that it is but maybe it’s just not my cup of coffee. The story and the characters feel shallow and not always that entertaining. Everyone is so comical but that’s probably intentional. But I honestly couldn’t enjoy it and the only thing that came to my mind throughout watching it is how weird it is.
The actor who played Pietari though, is quite delightful. He’s funny without even trying and provides a good center for the movie. It also came to a surprise to me how good looking the visual effects are. There are a lot of scenes that must have been done with green screens and they look pretty good. In fact, the whole movie is good looking indeed.
Rare Exports has actually received a lot of positive reviews and won a lot of awards. And the audience that I watched the movie with seemed to enjoy their time, laughing many times, and also jerking in their seats because of a few surprising scenes. So maybe you’ll enjoy it too. But if you are expecting a brightly funny flick, and not in the mood for some odd, dark and twisted comedy, I guess you can stay out of it.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale was screened at Europe on Screen 2012, Jakarta.