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Blogvent Day 8 – Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010,Finland)


Director: Jalmari Helander            Starring: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Onni Tommila

Finland, Finland, Finland, the country where I quite want to be. Or so Monty Python sang but on the strength of Jalmari Helander’s feature film debut they may well want to reconsider that sentiment, especially around the festive season. I can’t think of a single other Finnish film that I have heard of, never mind seen and so I was doubly intrigued by this yuletide oddity and had pretty high hopes that it might prove to be something a little bit different to your average Christmas film. I wasn’t disappointed.

When a shadowy corporation engages a drilling crew to dig up something from deep within the Korvatanturi mountains it doesn’t bode well for the local reindeer farmers who find their herds decimated in the wake of the operation. What they don’t realise is, the miners have dug up the real Santa Claus, an ancient child devouring demon of Cthonic proportions who’s just waiting to be thawed out before he can go about his business of punishing all the naughty boys and girls of the world. It is up to a young lad Pietari (Tommila) to convince his dad and the other farmers of the true nature of the threat and they have to band together to defend themselves, their children and the world from the Santa Claus menace.

It sounds barmy I know but the concept has been so beautifully realised that what is a slightly demented concept actually plays out wonderfully. Great pains have been taken to establish the alternative Santa mythology (one of the most brilliant things about the film is the old tome in which Pietari reads up on the true nature of Santa Claus) and the idea that he is imprisoned in an ancient burial mound the size of a mountain has a Lovecraftian vibe about it that really appeals to me. It also treads into the territory of folk horror with a similar feel to something like Blood On Satan’s Claw with it’s child-centric horror and rural (albeit snowbound, rural Finland) setting. This is far from straight faced horror though and the darkness is lightened up considerably by a wry sense of humour that will be more than familiar to fans of Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. Helander’s film is far less reliant on gore than either of those film makers but he does seem to have a talent for dark humour and establishing sinister, creepy elements. Santa’s helper elves and their straw children are a case in point, ranking in my opinion among the top ten most sinister things I’ve seen in a film in the past decade.

Interestingly, as if following a more traditional Christmas film template, the film is told from the kids viewpoint more than the adults, specifically Pietari’s but also his friends and while the adults play an important role it is really down to the kids to provide the heroics, the brains, the plans and the action. The grown ups seem to be along for the ride to some extent, they are certainly oblivious to the truth for much of the film, their minds closed and lacking the imagination required to make the leap of faith to the Santa problem. Having said that, when presented with the evidence they don’t resist the theory, they just seem to lack the broadness of mind to arrive at it themselves.

The film is bristling with lots of nice little incidental touches, tiny details that don’t make or break the story but lend it an air of authenticity that makes it all the more satisfying. It’s the little things, like Pietari’s method of stopping himself from falling asleep (a bunch of keys poised to drop into a metal bucket should he nod off), the level of detail on his origin of Santa book, the safety instruction cards issued to the mining crew (No Smoking, No Swearing, etc, etc lest they should invoke the wrath of Mr Claus) all of these things have been lovingly devised and implemented and all help to cement the film’s concept. It’s proper filmmaking. They do have to resort to CGI for the finale but this can be forgiven as it is pretty well implemented, considering the scale of the film and it’s budget and also only used where really necessary during the film’s grandiose finale.

I think it’s fair to say that Rare Exports has leapt quite convincingly to the top of the pile of my favourite Christmas films. Whilst it might not have the longevity of something like A Christmas Carol it certainly has enough charm and personality to keep me entertained for a long time to come and I would most definitely recommend it to everyone as essential festive viewing.

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