Saturday, December 17, 2011

Movie – Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

What if the original Santa wasn’t the kind, jolly old man that stories make him out to be?  What if the legend got garbled over the thousands of years from when an ancient people first encountered him to when modern people now encounter him again?  How would they respond?  The movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale answers those questions and more.  As the tagline for the movie says, “This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.”  The film is a mixture of suspense and dark comedy that is highly entertaining.  It is number 5 on my list of the best non-traditional Christmas movies.

The movie takes place in Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland, in the days leading up to Christmas.  A small community of reindeer herders has recently had their peace disturbed by an American company drilling down into the nearby Korvatunturi Mountain, which is on the border with Russia.  The company believes the mountain is an ancient burial mound built by the indigenous Sami people thousands of years ago.  Their drilling first reveals sawdust, then ice.  Sawdust was once used to keep ice from melting, so they know they are on the right track to finding what the Sami enclosed there.

Meanwhile, two boys from the local community have been sneaking in to see what is going on.  Even though they know it is wrong, they are too excited to help themselves.  One of the boys, Pietari, feels guilty about it, while the other boy, Juuso, is defiant.  Pietari decides to look in some books to see if his naughty deed will keep Santa from bringing him a present.  He finds a very old book that tells the story of the true Santa Claus.  What he reads in this book scares him quite a bit.  Originally, Santa didn’t bring presents to good children; he punished the bad ones.  The sack he carried was not for bringing presents; it was for taking away bad children.

Since he has been bad, this scares Pietari a lot.  He tells Juuso, who doesn’t believe him.  He tries to talk with his father, Rauno, but he just humors his son about believing Santa is real.  With no one listening to him, that leaves it up to Pietari.  He strings Christmas lights outside his bedroom window so he can look out and keep watch for Santa.  He puts a trap in the fireplace to catch Santa when he comes down the chimney.

Meanwhile, the adults are getting ready to collect and sell their reindeer.  It is their only real source of income.  They discover that something has killed almost their entire herd.  They assume it was a wolf, but they have never seen anything like the damage that has been done.  Most of the killing happened near the excavation the foreign company is doing, so they head up to them to get an explanation of what is going on.  What they find is an abandoned mining operation.  Not one person is around.  They also find a huge hole where something has obviously been dug up.

The next morning everyone discovers a whole bunch of weird things happened during the night.  A farmer reported that his storehouse was broken into, but no vegetables were taken; only the sacks they were in.  Many people reported that their stoves had been stolen.  Rauno has the biggest shock of all; he discovers an old, naked man has been caught in the illegal wolf pit he had dug.  The man appears to be dead.

Rauno calls his friend Piiparinen to come over.  Piiparinen was preparing to play Santa for the local kids, so he is in the outfit when he arrives.  He and Rauno discuss the situation, which is pretty bad.  Since the man was killed by an illegal pit, Rauno is probably going to jail at least for manslaughter, if not more.  Piiparinen convinces him that they need to dispose of the body.  Before they can, the old man impossibly starts to show signs of life.  Rauno decides he needs to get his other friend Aimo.  This man is the father of Juuso, so Pietari goes along.

The fathers are concerned with all the weird things going on.  Because Aimo knows how to speak English, and because Rauno thinks the old man is one of the American miners, he convinces Aimo to come back with him.  Pietari meanwhile discovers that Juuso is missing.  Still, no one will listen to him, so he starts calling all the families who have children.  He finds that all of them are missing.

Rauno, Piiparinen, and Aimo have tried to get close to the old man, but he is now completely active and attacks them.  They manage to subdue him and Pietari finally convinces his father and friends that they’ve really got the ancient Santa Claus that was dug up out of the nearby mountain.  They come up with an idea.  They dress the old man up in the Santa costume Piiparinen arrived in and contact the American company about selling Santa to them for the cost of their lost reindeer herd.  Let’s just say things don’t go smoothly.

As you can tell from the above description, the movie is not to be taken as a serious drama.  Despite the suspense about people being in danger, it is also quite funny.  I especially loved the ending of this movie.  I laughed quite a bit at it.  I was very surprised when I saw some negative comments about the ending on IMDB.  Once I read them I understood.  There were apparently a lot of bloodthirsty people out there who were figuring the movie was building to an orgy of gore, and blood, and body parts as Santa went medieval on everyone.  While there is death, and while there is some blood, this is not a gory movie.  The ending concentrates far more on humor and action than anything else.  Critics seem to agree with me since the movie has a 90% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The name “Rare Exports” may sound familiar to you.  That is because there was a comedy short by that name released back in 2003.  It was created by the Helander brothers.  It featured three men trapping feral Father Christmases.  I saw this short back when it came out and got a good laugh from it.  I didn’t realize that a second short was produced in 2005 titled Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions.  If you have not seen them, that is not a problem.  While the full length movie has nods to both of them, it is independent from them in regards to the story.  Both of the shorts are on the DVD for the movie, so after you get done watching the film, flip over and watch these two shorts, too.

For those that have seen them, the actors who play Rauno and Aimo were two of the original men in both shorts, and the boy who plays Pietari was in the second short.  In addition, the man who narrated the two shorts appears in a small role as the onsite head of the American company who is doing the excavating.  One of the Helander brothers who did the two shorts is the writer and director of the movie.

Something I didn’t realize while watching, but found out afterwards, is that the mountain in the movie has a special significance for the Finnish.  There were a series of tales in the first half of the 20th century that featured this mountain as the home of Father Christmas, so the filmmakers used it in this movie as an additional joke.

If you are looking for a Christmas movie that has Santa in it, but that is still not your run of the mill kind of movie, then this is the one for you.  It is quite funny, both in concept and in the specifics we see on screen.  I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

[Note – you can read about the best non-traditional Christmas movies at this link.]

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  1. I've been looking for this for about half a year now. Maybe I'll intensify my efforts at getting it.

  2. I got it a couple weeks ago on disk via Netflix. Neither Netflix or Amazon have it available via Instant Viewing. Amazon has it for sale (after watching it I bought a copy.)

  3. Haha well I trust your judgement, but this one does not quite seem like my type lol.

    Nice work though!

  4. @Matt - Not everyone will share a liking for the same kinds of movies. That's why I try to describe some of the plot, without giving away too much - so that people can judge for themselves.

  5. @chip hey man, could you hit me up with an email when you get a second.