‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ may be the strangest Santa movie of all time

Photo courtesy of Mika Orasmaa

Director Jalmari Helander’s strange, strange Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale offers a warped version on the legend of old St. Nick. This Finnish film is quick finicky, indeed.

Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) are two youngsters who stumble upon an archaeological dig near a reindeer farm. The excavation project, funded by an American, turns up an unexpected discovery. There, deep within a large hill, are the remains of Santa Claus. But he’s not exactly a fat man with a white beard, and his cadre of helpful elves are far from the stereotypical image of singing, smiling toymakers. This Christmas tale features dark subject matter, and these holiday mainstays are sometimes scary to behold.

The movie, expertly directed by Helander, plays like a Finnish Spielberg film. Substitute E.T. for the Christmas elves, and suddenly Pietari becomes Elliott. The premise of having unsuspecting kids making a discovery that can change the world almost always creates an engaging film. We are able to watch the story unfold through their impressionable eyes. Think Attack the Block meets Super 8, and you get an idea of what to expect in Rare Exports.

Still, things become so strange that it’s difficult to invest in the story. The elves are skinny, naked old men with long beards and dirty bodies. There’s a ton of them, and at one point, they’re rounded up like cattle. Santa Claus is even odder.

The tale is steeped in mythology and old religious traditions (presumably), but not much comes in way of explanation. Everything unfolds as if that these events were the regular course of action.

The landscape of this reindeer farm on the edge of the world is beautifully staged, and much of the film is shot in a characteristically unique manner. All of the shots are crisp and cold, befitting the northern environment and feeling of lonesomeness.

The acting is all believable and nicely handled. Helander’s script provides for some quiet scenes and an exciting finale. Everything needs a requisite grain of salt and permanently planted tongue in cheek, but if audience members give themselves over to the strangeness, there’s something to be appreciated.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale will likely appeal to horror and science-fiction fans who regularly bypass more seasonal fare during the holidays. The 84-minute film, which flies by, plays like a Spielberg film, but feels like a Tim Burton adaptation. Everything is interesting, engaging and artistically inclined. It’s also eye-popping for its oddity.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

  • In Finnish with English subtitles

  • 2010

  • Written and directed by Jalmari Helander

  • Starring Onni Tommila

  • Running time: 84 minutes

  • Rated R for some nudity and language

  • Rating: ★★½☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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