Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale ~ 2010, Jalmari Helander
From the land of folk metal and cell phones comes Rare Exports, an awesome and refreshingly original horror/fantasy film ideal for the Christmas season. Typically, these reviews get funnier the more I hate a movie… That being said, you may want to just skip this review now, because unfortunately, I don’t hate anything about Rare Exports. This one is a real keeper.
THE PLOT- Pietari and his father Rauno live in the rural Lapland region of Finland, in a valley bordered by an icy mountain range. Recently, a British dig team has taken up some sort of excavation atop a nearby mountain, and Rauno, who works as a reindeer farmer along with his friends Aimo and Piiparinen (no shit, that’s what Finnish names sound like) assume this to be some sort of geological study. Pietari and his friend Jusso know better. After sneaking up to the dig site and spying on the supposed Geologists, the two boys discover the truth; this is no mountain at all, but instead; a giant, ancient, burial mound long forgotten by human history. The occupant of this incredible, man made structure? A frozen, still living Santa Claus.
Horrified by the implications, Pietari immediately conducts research into the history of Santa Claus using ancient books which he somehow obtains, even though I can’t imagine where in the hell he found those, and what he discovers is that Santa has not always been the happy, jolly old man we now know him to be today. On the contrary, the original Santa bares a closer resemblance to a damn monster, and focused mostly on punishment, rather than reward. Freaking typical. Although no one takes him seriously, Pietari becomes concerned that a full-on Yuletide home invasion may nearly be upon him, and therefore begins taking safety precautions to protect himself from Santa’s impending reign of terror. This involves wearing butt-shielding inside his pants to protect him from Santa-administered spankings, and loading up the chimney with a bear trap, which he fails to warn his father about. Life in Finland looks really fun, you guys.
Meanwhile, for Rauno, Aimo and Piiparinen, things are looking horribly grim. The entire herd of reindeer, upon which their survival is entirely dependent, have turned up dead, a disaster which will financially devastate all three families. The men blame wolves, thought to have been driven down into the valley by commotion atop the mountain, but Pietari suspects Santa’s involvement right from the start. Furious, desperate, and not at all interested in Pietari’s Santa theories, Rauno rigs up an illegal trap to catch whatever wolves he can, for revenge, I guess, but much to his shock, he catches something else; a grizzled, naked old man with a long, white beard and a menacing disposition. With tensions high and no alternative solution to their crushing financial woes, Rauno, Aimo and Piiparinen decide to ransom this man, believing him to be one of the geologists from the mountain, even though he is clearly a monster older than human history, and also nude. From that point out things get progressively crazier, and it’s awesome.
So, at the root of Rare Exports, which was based loosely on a short film made by the same creative team, what we have is a coming of age story for young Pietari. When we first meet him, Pietari is childish in an exaggerated way, he carries a stuffed animal at all times, his best friend Jusso taunts him for still believing in Santa, that sort of thing. In general, Pietari is loved, but not respected, and the general consensus is that whatever it is, Pietari is too young to do it. Actually, we kind of get the feeling that he’s told he’s “too little” so often that he’s bought into the hype himself, and that what’s really keeping him from developing into an adult is how constantly people write him off for not being one already. This prolonged state of childlike open-mindedness actually gives him an edge, where Jusso would reject Santa outright in an attempt to appear as mature as possible, Pietari’s youthful perspective allows him to piece the situation together long before anyone else. When the time comes, Pietari bravely rises to the test, while Jusso’s posturing is revealed to be all bluster and no substance.
The film is told from Pietari’s perspective, which was a good choice. It adds to the charm significantly, and it gives the movie a modern fairy tale vibe, not unlike E.T. or Pan’s Labyrinth. Pietari’s exchanges with Jusso almost remind one of The Lost Boys, but in a good way, but the most impressive thing Rare Exports manages to do is that it makes us like Pietari, when it would have been so easy for him to come off as too whiney, or too much of a sudden know-it-all when the film climaxes and he’s so much better informed than all of the adults. That’s such a tough balance, and if they hadn’t pulled it off, this thing would be dead in the water. They pulled it off wonderfully, though, and actually, pretty much all our characters are super likable. Aimo, Rauno, and Piiperinen are all solid dudes, and honestly, each time I come out of this film I do so wanting to spend more time with them. They’re well written, well acted, and believable, and even when their desperation pushes them to do bad things, we feel for them enough that we don’t end up hating their guts.
One weird thing about this film, however… I don’t think there’s a single woman in it. Pietari appears to have no mother, and, unless I missed someone, not a single female appears on camera, ever. I believe at one point Pietari phones the mother of another child, but we don’t see her, and as he checks to see if other children are okay, his little list does have some girl’s names on it, but we never meet any of these characters. I believe Rare Exports to have an entirely male cast. Is it just a major sausage fest over in Finland? What’s the deal? I’m not sure what this might be in liu of… Perhaps to exaggerate the lack of a female presence in Pietari’s life? Living without a mother in the harsh, frozen Finnish tundra can maybe make you feel like the world is just swarming with scruffy, old dudes, exclusively? Could having only one parent somehow have contributed to his immaturity? This is all speculation, but I thought it was worth bringing up, because it is admittedly pretty weird.
The ending is maybe a little overly sentimental and convenient, but it’s easy to forgive this after how charming the rest of the film is, and even at it’s most hokey, Rare Exports is great experience. I recommend it!