If you see only one fiendishly bizarre Finnish film about an evil Santa Claus and his naked band of marauding elves this holiday season, make it Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. - Rotten Tomatoes Review
Last night, TG and I went to see this quirky little film called Rare Exports: A Christmas Story. Our 2 year anniversary was Friday and we wanted to go see something but nothing was grabbing our attention: We'd already seen Tangled and Harry Potter, I didn't want to see Black Swan, neither of us had any desire to see Unstoppable or Burlesque and we weren't sure about The Tourist. That left Rare Exports.
So we watched the trailer and read the synopsis and really couldn't figure it out. Was it a spoof? Were they making fun of action or horror movies? Was it based off something or was it an original screenplay? All the lines seemed campy and forced and it seemed like a big joke. My only real dealings with Scandinavian film was Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal starring Max von Sydow and the MSTK ribbing of Sampo or The Day the Earth Froze, so I was a little skeptical. I kept thinking, "It'll be filmed in some cold place, it'll make little sense but I'll leave feeling like I should have learned something about my place in the universe."
No way, José. Rare Exports takes itself very seriously and yet brings with it the charm and humor you find in every day life. It's not forced or practiced, it seems very real at times. At others, it seems like something Guillermo del Toro dreamed up. From the opening with the harmless geological survey team to the fiery explosion at the end, the film builds suspense and emotion meticulously but leaves you feeling raw and exposed as though you were in the cold and in the dark.
The story begins with the owner of a mining company being shown by the lead geologist that a core sample has come back with sawdust. In the old days, you would keep ice frozen by covering it in sawdust. (To me this was hilarious as the film takes place within the Arctic Circle. Who has trouble keeping ice frozen there?) So what was being frozen under this giant mountain? The owner of the company knows, but he's not telling anyone just yet. It turns out, he believes that Santa is being kept in some kind of icy prison and he's going to dig him out. Things go awry when something falls into a local man's wolf trap, however, and young Pietari is forced to face his fears about a real life Santa who steals children.
Santa Claus as depicted by Macy's and Coca-Cola has only been around for some 60 or so years, but it's based in some older legends from Northern Europe, specifically the Lapland region of Finland. Santa, or Joulupukki, lives not at the North Pole, but on Korvantuturi Fell; a place from which he can hear all the children from around the world. The name Joulupukki means "Yule goat" and Pietari sees a lot of images of Santa with horns or with a goat head. Rare Exports has its roots in Finnish Yule traditions but doesn't linger. The bleak landscape immediately makes you tense, waiting for something to jump out. There's talk of Russian wolves and there aren't any women in the film. You get the feeling right away that something isn't right, but you don't know what and the characters don't know either. You and Pietari and his dad and the potato farmer and the reindeer hunter all find out together what's been buried in the mountain. And it's not even what you think.
We missed the opening night at the Alamo where you could get your picture taken, holding weapons, next to a grizzled old Santa in a cage. Instead we saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which gets my vote as among the top longest movie titles.) It wasn't bad, better than the second, but it was maybe unfairly discounted as not being the movie we'd intended on seeing. And now that I've seen Rare Exports, I feel right in saying it's the better of the two.
It's not a kids movie. It's not a first date movie. It's not a feel good Christmas hit. If you like movies that are surprising and exceptionally made, I would highly suggest it.