Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
What's that coming over the hill? Is it a monster, is it a monster?
Generally there's nothing more boring than a Christmas film, the festive genre normally being saccharine rich and aimed squarely at children. Exceptions obviously with the likes of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon but they're just films set at Christmas rather than Christmas films. But lo, from Finland comes a new film that may just make festive viewing a bit more fun in the same way as recent Dutch film Sint and attempts to look at and twist the origins of Santa Claus away from the cuddly jolly benevolent fellow our children know and love.
Pietari (Onni Tommila) lives with his father in the wilds of Finland, his mother dying some time ago. Pietari is an adventurous young chap and is curious about the archeological excavation taking place on a local mountain - just over the border in Russia but apparently crewed by Americans. He and his friend cut a hole through the bordering fence to the excavation and go to see what's going on. They can't see much but it's clear that the crew are digging deep and for something specific.
Meanwhile Pietari's father and neighbours are preparing for the annual round up of reindeer, prior to slaughtering them for their meat so that they can sell it off and live off the proceeds. With a new pen in place and an electric fence on the reindeer trail, they all eagerly await the migration of the reindeer so they can be rounded up and herded into the pen. Disappointingly only two rather scrawny looking reindeer appear rather than the hundreds expected. Setting off to investigate on their snow mobiles, the group find all the reindeer have been slaughtered and when Pietari's father finds the hole in the fence to the excavation, wolves from Russia are blamed for the carnage and the rather bleak winter the Finns can now look forward to with no money to support them.
Pietari, though, is a local expert on Santa Claus, having a rather large reference book on his origins and believes that the traditional Christmas figure of fun is actually an evil monster and therefore behind the carnage. According to his understanding of history, Santa Claus not only worked out which children were good or naughty, but then kidnapped them to punish them. He sets out to investigate what is really going on, whilst in parallel a number of local children start to go missing...
Mainly Finnish language soundtrack with smatterings of English from the 'foreign' characters. All nicely subtitled though with a few minor errors.
There are some odd inconsistencies in this film for a British audience but it is clear that this is a children's film in the tradition of The Goonies and Gremlins, but aimed at and integrating Finnish culture into the style and plot.
For a start, it's a little depressing. The Finnish are part of the 'dark' Scandanavia and have a history of border disputes with Russia, the Soviet Union as was called. Therefore this backdrop is still important for the film. The humour itself is dark and the general background of the main characters are true poor working class, not the poor working class you see depicted in Britain these days. These people live in the wilderness and have to kill wildlife, in this case reindeer, in order to eat and live.
It's also a little disconcerting to watch a children's film with the 10 year old protagonist having a shotgun slung over his shoulder whilst carrying a teddy bear, but hey, this is Scandanavia and they're cool with guns. And it's not
treated as anything special, it's unspoken in the script completely as if, as it probably is, just a part of normal life in that part of the world. Of course, it's clearly just as normal a part of life as said youngster hanging from helicopter netting whilst swinging in the winter wind…
Overall the tone may be a little dark, but Rare Exports is one hell of a chink of light in the genre of Christmas films. It's a bit of a ball from start to finish, with a couple of odd bits running all the way through - and one of the funniest but strangest catchphrases I've come across in all of my film watching. It wouldn't actually surprise me if this is remade into a Hollywood film with the setting moved to the mid-West. It won't be as good though.
Superb film - recommended.