It’s Christmastime in snowy Finland and a young boy called Pietari (Onni Tommila) watches a team of men drilling down into the Korvantunturi Mountains on the border with Russia. These ‘seismic researchers’ find sawdust and blocks of ice beneath the earth and their leader is pleased with the discovery of a burial ground. As they dig further down, Pietari tells his friend he thinks Santa Claus is buried under the mountains.
He goes home to research Santa and finds books depicting him as a wild beast-like man who kidnaps naughty children. Pietari joins his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and friends to go round up reindeer, which will be used to sustain them over the winter months. Hundreds of the animals are found slaughtered, their bodies spread across the white landscape. The men believe it was wolves but Pietari finds footprints in the snow similar to those he saw in a book about Santa Claus…
Strange occurrences then befall their small village. Rauno finds an injured man in his bear pit who shows a peculiar interest in Pietari. Radiators, potato sacks, hairdryers and children go missing. It becomes clear that Pietari was right, and Santa has been found deep in the mountains. He is being held by people who want to make money out of his legend, but Santa’s elves are determined to get their master back.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a very different kind of festive movie. It offers a twisted take on the mythical Christmas story of the jolly old man with a white beard dressed in red, who hands out presents to children who’ve been well behaved. This film exposes an ulterior legend, one that depicts Santa Claus as a scary creature with large horns, and his ‘little helpers’ as naked and creepy old men who do their master’s bidding.
The film is dissimilar to the cheesy movies that are usually associated with Christmas. Although it is very funny in places, it has a sinister edge and doesn’t mock the plot. The actors play their roles straight-faced, as if the events really are occurring.
The protagonist, Pietari, is an endearing character and his strained relationship with his father Rauno comes across effectively. The young actor who plays him, Onni Tommila, is the real-life son of the man playing his dad, Jorma Tommila. Pietari’s mother is missing for an unexplained reason, and his father often seems like he doesn’t know how to deal with him on his own. Their relationship grows and develops throughout the film as they work together to save the children and stop Santa’s elves.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is based on two award-winning shorts by the director Jalmari Helander, who came up with the story behind them with his brother Juuso. Rare Exports Inc. (2003) and The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions (2005) were written by, directed by, and star the same people as this film, and they have acquired something of a cult reputation on the internet. They were adapted for the big screen in the form of this feature length prequel.
This Finnish film is fun and interesting, with an atmospheric setting, beautiful landscapes, blowing snow and whistling winds. It is a twisted and imaginative film that is also quite brief, at just 84 minutes. A real Christmas treat, this definitely makes a nice change from the usual festive-themed movies and it’s one I’d happily watch every December.