It’s Christmas, so why is Santa in his birthday suit?
Image: Icon Film Distribution
Hot off the festival trail, and a win for best film and director (Sitges Festival), the Finnish Christmas tale that has been billed as the alternative Santa story for “all those who think they don’t believe in Santa Claus” has finally landed in UK cinemas, and while Lapland, gingerbread men, and the promise of the original Christmas daddy may make audiences take a sleigh bell ride to the cinema, it should be noted that Rare Exports really does deliver something rare; and although it’s got a lot of hair, it’s actually completely bare.
Set in the mountains of Lapland, Rare Exports chronicles the week before Christmas, as the young Pietari (Onni Tommila) discovers the truth about the real Santa Claus: that he isn’t the jolly, Coca-Cola drinking, fat man we all know and love, but someone far more sinister. As Pietari tries to alert his father and friend, the most guarded Christmas secret is brought to the surface, forcing the boy and his manly entourage to act fast to change the reality of Santa Claus forever.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is actually the prequel to two award-winning online shorts (Rare Exports Inc. and Rare Exports Inc.: Safety Instructions) helmed by the up-and-coming director Jalmari Helander. Some may have seen the shorts prior to watching the film, but if not, delaying the event may make the trilogy all the more enchanting.
From start to finish, the film keeps you on your toes. Like a child waiting for Santa to come down the chimney, Helander offers up cookies and a pig’s head to keep audiences invested in uncovering the truth, and eager to catch a glimpse of the illusive man; and when the bearded figure finally takes a stand, Helander manages to conger up the slight unease that’s present when watching other fairytales. That being said, in the context of things original, the premise of this Scandinavian adventure is barely that. Many movies over the years have toyed with the idea of the antagonist of Christmas celebrations - Scrooge being the most famous illustration - and fairytales à la The Brothers Grimm have always been present, providing that constant disturbing undertone to folk tales. But what is appealing about this story is the suggestion that the adversary is the godfather of Christmas himself, and that Santa’s little helpers aren’t who we perceive them to be. It’s an enjoyable alternative, set in a vast yet intimate location.
Tommila is very likeable as the innocent Pietari, struggling to figure out whether he’s been naughty or nice, while the male reindeer hunters provide many comic moments as we’re guided through the mysterious goings-on. The movie doesn’t exactly deliver what it highlights in the trailer, and so the tale may prove to be a little tame for some folk, but a snow-filled, picturesque setting, great performances, and a few dazzling effects render it all quite charming.
Though not half as creepy as it claims to be, Rare Exports is an unconventional Christmas movie that’s definitely worth a look. It does, however, contain some indecent exposure, and so parents be warned – although based on the certificate, this is not a movie for everyone, i.e., kids.