RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE
In the Finnish Arctic, young Pietari (Onni Tommila) lives with his widowed father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), at an economically depressed reindeer slaughterhouse. Nearby, a mysterious American science expedition has stumbled upon a great find, apparently connected to the legend that Santa is buried here: the malevolent character of local folklore. The day before Christmas, Rauno and his neighbours stumble on a field of dead and mutilated reindeer. The adults assume some large, savage wolf is to blame, but Pietari and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Jarvenpaa) know there's a more sinister force at work, and the following day they realize all the local children are missing.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you feel like an antidote to the usual menu of cheery, cheesy and charitable Christmas movies this year, Rare Exports is for you. Santa ain't what you think Santa is, whether you believe in him or not. Made with the full fanfare of a children's adventure (Spielberg eat your heart out) Rare Exports is a rare treat for those who like their stories a bit dark and unpredictable, kinda like cranky Auntie May's Christmas pudding.
Set amongst some fabulous northern Finland mountains, the film echoes the adventures of kids keenly awaiting Santa for Christmas - with some deliciously offbeat twists. Best not to reveal them, except that the premise at once confirms the Santa legend and denies its generous and sweet elements.
Best of all, everything is played for drama; there is nothing to suggest that the filmmakers aren't deadly serious, which only adds to the razor sharp fun. Like a clever thriller, the film plays with your mind and writer/director Jalmari Helander keeps taking us into unexpected corners. You'll giggle and suck in air - but it's not a raucous comedy; more like a forbidden film noir under the Christmas tree. The sensibilities on display are certainly not Hollywood - nor anything else familiar to Australian audiences, for that matter. Except the music. Juri and Miska Seppa's score is as big and majestic as any Hollywood Christmas epic might want, adding to the film's mood of classic holiday fare.
Young Onni Tommila as Pietari is the undisputed star of the film, his puckish face a joy to watch whether thinking, talking or scheming. He carries the film's heart and is the hero who learns just what is happening in this remote neck of the Finnish woods and knows what to do about it. Indeed, it is as much a coming of age story as anything else.
There's nothing cute or sweet to distract us from the bleak version of the Santa legend, in which a bit of gory horror creeps in and in which there is not a single female in sight. No token damsel in this story, folks!
There are scenes of almost absurd abandon, including those with dozens of naked and bearded old Santa's helpers seemingly oblivious to the snow and ice. But that's the very least of it: you have to see it to believe it, and when you have seen it, you may understand why the Finns have a reputation in Europe for being ... way out there.
Review by Louise Keller:
Offering a brand new spin on Christmas, this fantasy from the land of the original Santa Claus is bold and black, with its huge contrasts making this unusual tale so memorable. A reindeer slaughterhouse, a young boy's curiosity and gingerbread biscuits are the key ingredients in a story that turns expectations upside down as filmmaker Jalmari Helander gives us his take on the real Santa Claus - the Finnish one. It's bizarre, intriguing and surprisingly moving as the storytelling avoids all sentimentality.
The film's main character is its setting. The landscape comprises unforgiving mountains, blanketed by thick layers of snow and ice. Fir trees laden with snow could come straight from a Christmas snow dome but there is no such comfort here. We can feel the chill in the air and we quickly observe that this remote environment offers a bleak and tough life for a man and his young son, as they struggle to survive. What is going on behind the steel fences, where explosives are set? And what truth lies behind the storybooks that tell of the nasty Santa, who spanks kids to death and leaves his footprints in the snow?
The distinctive face of young Onni Tommila as Pietari is the image that you will remember from the film; he is the unexpected hero of the tale, a young boy who carries a soft toy called Vuppe on a leash, and the one who solves the puzzle when strange things begin to happen. Radiators are stolen, potato sacks disappear and elderly naked men with a penchant for gingerbread biscuits form an eerie world where nothing makes sense. All the performances are wonderful and we get a great sense of place from this land towards the North Pole, where the unexpected blows its fresh ideas, allowing us to savour the strange, the sweet and the spicy all together in one astonishing package.
Dendy Opera Quays
Dendy Byron Bay
Palace Brighton Bay
Dendy Portside (TBC)
Gold Coast Arts Centre (TBC)
Palace Nova Eastend
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RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (M)
CAST: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Ilmari Jarvenpaa, Peeter Jakobi, Jonathan Hutchings, Risto Salmi
PRODUCER: Petri Jokiranta
DIRECTOR: Jalmari Helander
SCRIPT: Jalmari Helander
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mika Orasmaa
EDITOR: Kimmo Taavila
MUSIC: Juri Seppa, Miska Seppa
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jalmari Helander
RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 2, 2010