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In a year that has seen Australian filmmakers embrace genre, and being encouraged to do so by funding bodies and with the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) devoting its entire edition of Lumina (October 2010) to genre under the heading Genre IS Not A Dirty Word, a Finnish film comes along – Rare Exports - to throw a curly one into the genre discussions. Andrew L. Urban reports.

Making his debut feature – on the back of two phenomenally successful short films seen online by 1 million viewers – Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander takes the overused old Christmas subject, Santa, and turns it into a horror movie with comedy. But not at all how you might expect.

The film has stirred a debate about what sort of genre it really is; see Mike Jones’ blog (link at right).

Halmari himself writes: “It is peculiar that no-one has taken up this subject matter before. It feels like no-one has even thought about what the real Santa Claus might have been like. What did the notorious Yule Goat that used to go from house to house in the old days represent? And why were Christmas and Santa Claus forced into the complete opposite of their roots? The horned creature that used to bring twigs to children is now a chubby, red-coated child’s best friend.”

So with Rare Exports, Jalmari blends fairy tale, mythology, Christian iconography and some very earthly issues – resulting in a unique and memorable work that is as invigorating as a faceful of Lappland snow. 

"fantasy with a realistic approach"

“I wanted to handle great events in small circles,” he writes in his notes, “and create fantasy with a realistic approach. Even though the everyday life in the film is slightly emphasized or stylized, the thought behind it is that this could really happen. We did not need computer generated special characters or wondrous fairytale worlds. What we needed was simply a scary old man and an old reindeer slaughterhouse.

“The feel of the film is isolated. A small community in the shadow of huge mountains, in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to show how small the people really are against nature and the ancient creatures which have been here far longer than us. In this film, normal people get caught in the middle of supernatural events. Still, there is also a comedic side to it. After all, we are dealing with Santa, not a space alien.”

For filmmakers there is a further lesson: a busy tv commercial director Jalmari had made two shorts (2003 and 2005) which became the breeding ground for his feature film. Quite apart from the creative workout, these films generated a massive fanbase. This is precisely the advantage that online marketing offers filmmakers.

Published December 2, 2010

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Mike Jones, Lecturer in Screen Studies at AFTRS, examines the entrails of Rare Exports to see what it’s made of: is it Horror? Dark Fairy Tale? Coming of Age? Black Comedy? What do you think?

But we recommend you read this blog AFTER you’ve seen the film [spoiler alert]. It also includes the two short films by filmmaker Jalmari Helander, the precursors to the feature.

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